WASHINGTON -- More skirmishes in an undeclared global cyberwar came to light in June, although none of the countries doing the fighting acknowledges the war is happening.
As reports roll in of breaches of Western countries' computer networks by Chinese and Russian hackers, Washington is considering countermeasures. The U.S. is likely to take up the issue of cyberattacks in the two-day strategic and economic dialogue between senior U.S. and Chinese officials that starts Tuesday in Washington.
On June 10, the U.S. Army publicly called for companies it does business with to provide a list of potential security vulnerabilities in the software they use. According to Edward Snowden, a former CIA officer, National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower, the CIA holds annual gatherings to discuss such security vulnerabilities. The agenda for the 2012 meeting, held at an office of major defense contractor Lockheed Martin, included a report on how to attack Apple iPhones, according to Snowden.
Moscow-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab said June 10 it had detected electronic snooping at venues where talks were being held between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany and Tehran over Iran's nuclear program, including three European hotels. Kaspersky Lab said the spyware has technical similarities to the Stuxnet virus, which is said to have been co-developed by the U.S. and Israel to sabotage Iranian nuclear centrifuges. Media reports pinned the alleged eavesdropping on Israel.
The company's chairman and CEO, Eugene Kaspersky, announced the same day that it was also hit with the spyware. "Governments attacking IT (information technology) security companies is simply outrageous," he said in a statement.
In the name of counterterrorism, Washington has asked tech companies to create back doors that would allow the government to secretly access business and personal information. A group of industry leaders, including Apple, responded by submitting an open letter on June 9 to President Barack Obama, saying such a move would undermine the trust of their customers.
The U.S. is grappling with cyberattacks by Chinese and Russian hackers. Last year, Russian cyberspies allegedly hit the Pentagon and the White House, while hackers traced to China's People's Liberation Army were accused of stealing intellectual property from U.S. companies. In addition, Sony Pictures Entertainment, a U.S. subsidiary of Japanese electronics maker Sony, was targeted by a North Korean hack last autumn. Obama in April called these attacks a "national emergency."
Then, on June 4, a large-scale cyberattack was uncovered in which the personal information of 4 million U.S. federal employees was stolen. Authorities are investigating the case and again pointing the finger at China. Washington is worried about leaks in its intelligence network that could affect its ability to do its own spying.
The U.S. is not the only target of Russian and Chinese hackers. On June 14, the U.K.'s Sunday Times reported the Russian and Chinese governments had obtained and decrypted top-secret information previously leaked by Snowden. The U.K. immediately pulled intelligence operatives put at risk by the leaks, the report said. Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since June 2013, after U.S. law enforcement began seeking his arrest.
German media on June 11 reported that the Bundestag, the lower house of the parliament, has been repeatedly attacked since May by hackers likely affiliated with a Russian intelligence agency, and that its network is still compromised. Chancellor Angela Merkel's office computer was also broken into, reports say.
In Japan, the country's public pensions administrator this month disclosed over 1 million cases of personal data leaks at the agency that oversees payments to retirees. According to a security expert, the virus responsible for the breach contained a Chinese font. Similar types of malware has been spotted in many Japanese companies, raising suspicions of Chinese involvement.