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.
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
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
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.