A cyber-attack on a level never before seen and stretching back over five years has been uncovered, and among the 72 targets were the United Nations, the United States government and the International Olympic Committee.
Security experts McAfee discovered the breaches back in March and yesterday published a 14-page report detailing the extent of the world’s largest cyber-attack. McAfee believes there was one “state actor” behind the attacks but declined to name it. However one other security expert briefed on the cyber-attacks said the evidence pointed to China.
The list of 72 victims - all of whom have been informed - of the five year campaign reads like a who’s who of international governments and organisations. It includes the governments of the United States, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Vietnam and Canada; the United Nations; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); the International Olympic Committee (IOC); the World Anti-Doping Agency; and an array of companies, from defense contractors to high-tech enterprises.
In the case of the United Nations, the hackers broke into the computer system of its secretariat in Geneva in 2008, hid there for nearly two years, and quietly combed through reams of secret data, according to McAfee.
"Even we were surprised by the enormous diversity of the victim organisations and were taken aback by the audacity of the perpetrators," McAfee's vice president of threat research, Dmitri Alperovitch said.
What those who perpetrated this attack are doing with the information they have garnered is unknown, however if only a fraction of the commercially sensitive information is put to use, it could mean a “massive economic threat” according to McAfee.
The cyber-attack has been dubbed Operation Shady RAT by McAfee who discovered the breaches in March, when its researchers discovered logs of the attacks while reviewing the contents of a "command and control" server that they had discovered in 2009 as part of an investigation into security breaches at defense companies. The RAT in the name stands for Remote Access Tool, used by hackers to remotely access a computer from afar.
While the attacks by Anonymous and LulzSec have recently garnered lots of column inches in the mainstream media, this attack could potentially be far more damaging economically and politically.