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China fingered for Coca Cola hack - report

Several big name multinationals kept quiet about breaches

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Suspected Chinese hackers launched damaging cyber raids on several big name multi-nationals over the past few years, including Coca Cola, according to new reports.

Fizzy drink giant Coca Cola, British energy company BG Group, Luxembourg-based steel maker ArcelorMittal and Chesapeake Energy were all named by Bloomberg as having been breached but deciding not to reveal the news at the time.

Coca Cola’s computer systems were infiltrated thanks to an email sent to then the deputy president of Coca-Cola’s Pacific Group, Paul Etchells.

Appearing to come from the CEO, it actually contained a malicious link which, when Etchell clicked, began downloading malware including a keylogger, the report said.

Hackers spent around a month rooting around inside Coca Cola’s systems, said Bloomberg, citing an internal company document detailing the cyber intrusion. The document is said to attribute the attack to state-sponsored attackers as the culprits.

The attack was launched in 2009 with the aim of exfiltrating files relating to Coca Cola’s ultimately unsuccessful $US2.4bn acquisition of China Huiyuan Juice Group. China’s Ministry of Commerce eventually rejected the deal after raising competition concerns.

Although the report claimed state-sponsored actors were involved, experts interviewed by the news wire said the attack had all the hallmarks of Comment – a prolific Chinese hacking group.

Comment was also fingered for a 2011 attack on US gas giant Chesapeake Energy, by hacking the computers of its partner Jeffries Group. Chesapeake was apparently in dialogue at the time with a Chinese energy company about joint shale gas investments.

Comment was also accused of hacking ArcelorMittal, searching for a file named “China” on a senior exec's computer and pinching a whole load of PowerPoint slides.

BG Group was hacked in 2011 in a breach said to have been massive – including geological maps and drilling records – but like all the others, unreported at the time.

The incidents, if they took place, highlight the risks to multinational firms with business interests in China. Experts increasingly warn about such risks, with IP theft said to be prevalent.

Google took the rare step of going public after it uncovered the China-based Operation Aurora attacks on it and other firms in 2010. Since then, covert APT-style targeted attacks believed to originate in China have often hit the headlines. ®

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