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McAfee Exposes Massive Cyber Espionage Operation

McAfee Exposes Massive Cyber Espionage Operation - top government contractors - best government contracting event
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McAfee Exposes Massive Cyber Espionage Operation - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Photo: Stasys Eidiejus

Researchers from McAfee say they have uncovered one of the largest series of cyber espionage activities to date. 

According to a report released today called “Operation Shady RAT,” some 72 organizations and governments around the world fell victim to a massive,  five-year long cyber attack carried out by an unnamed, specific “state actor.”

Of the 72 victim organizations, 49 are based in the United States, with 14 listed as U.S. government entities and another 13 as defense contractors. Other targeted countries include Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Canada and India, among others.

According to the report’s author, Dmitri Alperovitch, Operation Shady RAT is a comprehensive analysis of an examination of logs that reveal the full extent of the victim population since mid-2006. It was discovered the compromises were executed through standard spear-phishing emails that initiated communication channels and deployed a series of data exfiltration activities.

RAT is an acronym for “remote access tool,” a type of software hackers and security experts use to access computer networks from afar.

“After painstaking analysis of the logs, even we were surprised by the enormous diversity of the victim organizations and were taken aback by the audacity of the perpetrators,” Alperovitch said. “Although we will refrain from explicitly identifying most of the victims, describing only their general industry, we feel that naming names is warranted in certain cases, not with the goal of attracting attention to a specific victim organization, but to reinforce the fact that virtually everyone is falling prey to these intrusions, regardless of whether they are the United Nations, a multinational Fortune 100 company, a small non-profit think-tank, a national Olympic team, or even an unfortunate computer security firm.”

The full extent of the data breaches is still largely unknown. However, if any of the stolen information was used in a way to gain an economical edge, the loss represents a massive economic threat to both individual and entire countries alike, explained Alperovitch.

What led the researchers to believe the organization behind the major cyber espionage operation was a nation-state actor was the discovery of the intrusions at the Asian and Western national Olympic Committees, as well as the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency. This pointed a finger at a state actor because there is likely no commercial benefit to be earned from such hacks, explained Alperovitch.

McAfee researches made the discovery through the access of one specific server. If more than 70 victims were uncovered through the monitoring of this single network, Alperovitch explained, then every sector of the economy may potentially be at risk to cyber attacks due to the overwhelming amount of servers connecting them.

“This is the critical issue that we need to be worrying about,” he said.

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