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Intel hit by 'sophisticated' hack last month

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Intel says it was hit by a "sophisticated incident" in January in which hackers attempted to breach its digital defenses, making it the latest US company to admit it is being targeted by online miscreants.

The world's biggest chipmaker made the acknowledgment in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission under a section devoted to risks that could have an adverse effect on the company's bottom line. It is the first time Intel has included hacking as a risk factor.

The disclosure came as recently reported breaches at Google, Adobe and some 2,500 companies and government agencies have stoked concern that many of the world's most powerful organizations can't keep their systems secure despite their formidable resources. Intel officials believe no intellectual property was intercepted, a company spokesman said.

Intel's statement read in part:

We regularly face attempts by others to gain unauthorized access through the Internet to our information technology systems by, for example, masquerading as authorized users or surreptitious introduction of software. These attempts, which might be the result of industrial or other espionage, or actions by hackers seeking to harm the company, its products, or end users, are sometimes successful. One recent and sophisticated incident occurred in January 2010 around the same time as the recently publicized security incident reported by Google.

Risk factors are highly dynamic and can change from year to year or even quarter to quarter, spokesman Chuck Mulloy said. The decision to include the hacking disclosures was in part driven by the amount of attention generated by the attacks on Google, which have been dubbed "Operation Aurora."

With a mid-January blog post, Google announced that attacks originating from China had lifted intellectual property from the company, and Microsoft later said the attack had exploited a hole in its Internet Explorer 6 browser. According to security researchers, at least 33 other companies were targeted by similar attacks.

"We included them this time because of the increased visibility and media attention that hacking has received," Intel's Mulloy said. "We saw an attack around the same time frame and figured in the spirit of fair disclosure [to say] we saw an attack also."

Mulloy declined to elaborate on what it was about the attack that made it sophisticated, except to say: "It was more than, say, some teenage kid." ®

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