Chinese hackers targeted European diplomats at G20

A simple e-mail delivered the virus allowing Chinese hackers to access computers during the international summit, says security firm FireEye.

Don Reisinger
Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
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Hackers in China took aim at five European ministries in the lead-up to the G20 summit in September, according to a new report.

Research by security firm FireEye reveals that Chinese hackers sent e-mails to staff of the foreign ministries with files laced with malware, reported Reuters on Tuesday. When recipients opened those files, malicious code was loaded on to their computers, according to the report. The hackers where then able to move across affected machines and perform recon before the international summit, said FireEye.

Just before the two-day G20 summit kicked off in St. Petersburg, Russia, the hackers moved to another server, said FireEye. The security firm lost track of the hackers when they moved servers, but it believes the move allowed the hackers to steal data as the summit was being held, according to the report.

FireEye declined to specify the nations of officials who were hacked, but said they were all members of the European Union, reported Reuters.

While FireEye said it was confident the hackers where from China, it did not find evidence that linked the hackers to the Chinese government, according to the report. Not surprisingly, the Chinese government has distanced itself from any claim that it might have hacked foreign governments for data.

Reports have swirled for years that hackers are thriving in China. In many cases, those groups that have allegedly hacked into sensitive networks appear to have no tie to the Chinese government. Whether that's actually true, however, is unknown.

One other interesting note from the Reuters report: FireEye detected no attempts by the hackers to target Americas, deciding instead to attack Europeans.