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US software firm hacked for years after suing China

Solid Oak nearly went under after three years of persistent attack

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A Californian software company which sued the Chinese government for pirating its flagship content filtering product has revealed how it was targeted by hackers from the People’s Republic for the three years of the resulting legal proceedings.

Santa Barbara-based Solid Oak Software filed the civil lawsuit against China after discovering thousands of lines of code from its parental filtering CYBERsitter had been lifted and used to develop the Green Dam Youth Escort – Chinese software which was originally intended to be rolled out nationally by the government.

Just 12 days after Solid Oak founder Brian Milburn went public with his intentions, the hackers began targeting his employees with a view to infiltrating the company, gleaning intelligence about the court case and disrupting sales as much as possible, Bloomberg reported.

“It felt like they had a plan,” Milburn told the newswire. “If they could just put the company out of business, the lawsuit goes away. They didn’t need guys with guns or someone to break my kneecaps.”

The attackers made initial incursions with spyware hidden in malicious email attachments and were soon able to remotely control PCs and switch on webcams to spy on individuals. They also apparently went after Solid Oak’s law firm in the hope of lifting documents which they believed may have helped in the upcoming court case.

Solid Oak’s web and email servers were also targeted, frequently crashing several times a day, and the small family-run business dived into the red as customers looking to buy the software online were not able to complete their transactions thanks to some tinkering with the script that controlled payment processing, Bloomberg said.

Forensic investigators told the newswire that the malware and attack toolkits they found on Solid Oak’s network and servers were unique to Chinese hackers known as the Comment group – a gang fingered for attacks on Coca Cola and others revealed earlier this month.

In the end Solid Oak survived by the skin of its teeth, with Milburn and his staff forced to share documents on webmail and Dropbox in an attempt to thwart their foes.

Within two months of a settlement in the case , the attacks reportedly stopped. ®

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