The Canadian government is the latest global authority to fall victim to the rise in hacking operations that appear to originate from China-based servers.
Gaining access to highly sensitive government computer files, both CBC and BBC news reported that hackers forced the government's Finance and Treasury Board to temporarily sever web access in a bid to prevent further secret data from falling into foreign hands.
The cyber-attack, which was first discovered in January of this year, lead investigators to trace activity back to China. Chinese officials have since denied involvement.
Another theory suggests that hackers could be rerouting their activity via Chinese servers in a bid to cover their tracks and remain anonymous. Unfortunately, the nature of such attacks makes it almost impossible to be certain in this regard; the inherent deniability, by suggesting such rerouting, is part of what makes this a major issue for governments engaged in countering such cyber attacks against national interests.
Executive Spear PhishingInformation security experts believe the attacks were orchestrated via a technique known as 'executive spear-phishing.'
Hacking into several top officials computers and email accounts, hackers contacted IT staff to have passwords reset, subsequently granting them unfettered access to secret files and data.
Hackers also sent emails to other members of the Canadian government from the corrupted accounts with seemingly innocent attachments releasing viruses after just a single click.
Speaking to CBC news, a source revealed:
“There is nothing particularly innovative about spear-phishing. It's just that's it's dreadfully effective.”
Sadly, this incident isn't the first time that Canadian authorities have been made aware of the apparent weaknesses in governmental computer networks.
Back in 2002, Auditor-General, Sheila Fraser, warned:
“There are weaknesses in the system. There are access controls that need to be fixed; there are a whole series of minimum security issues that are not being dealt with. There are vulnerabilities. Government needs to fix them.”
Unfortunately, when Fraser investigated the state of the Canadian government's information security set up just two years later, she found that few preventative security measures had been put in place:
“It is important that these things be dealt with and fixed – the government is vulnerable to attacks.”
The UK and US governments have identified such Cyber attacks as one of the major risks to their national interests; not just through access to military and other government secrets, but also through attacks on national economic and commercial interests – the UK government Centre for Protection of national Infrasytructure (CPNI) warns “The risk of industrial cyber espionage, in which one company makes active attacks on another, through cyberspace, to acquire high value information is also very real.” CPNI in collaboration with Information security experts through their Risk Management Delivery Group (RMDG) are encouraging government bodies and business of any size to adopt rigorous security testing programmes as a means to protect against rising instances of hacking from Asia and beyond.