Washington/London: Hackers belonging to an elite Chinese university attempted to probe American companies and government departments for espionage opportunities after a U.S. trade delegation paid a visit to China earlier this year, security researchers claimed while speaking to Reuters.
Cybersecurity firm named “Recorded Future” said that the group used computers available at China’s Tsinghua University to target U.S. energy and communications companies, and the Alaskan state government just weeks before and after Alaska’s trade mission to China which was led by Governor Bill Walker for which companies and economic development agencies spent a week in China in May.
All of those organizations involved in the trade mission were subject to focused attention from Chinese hackers then which underscored the tensions around an escalating tit-for-tat trade war going on between Washington and Beijing.
China was in 2017 Alaska’s largest foreign trading partner with more than USD 1.32 billion in exports.
The company, Recorded Future asserted in a report that is to be released soon on Thursday about the websites of Alaskan internet service providers and government offices were closely inspected in May this year by computers in the university which were searching for such security flaws. Such security flaws can be used by hackers to break into normally locked and confidential systems.
The government of Alaska was again scanned to find out software vulnerabilities in June, just 24 hours after Walker said he would raise such concerns in Washington about the economic damage done by the U.S. – China trade dispute.
As per an official in Tsinghua University which was contacted by telephone, the allegations were false.
“This is baseless. I’ve never heard of this, so I have no way to give a response,” said the official, who declined to give his name.
The University of Tsinghua which is also called as “China’s MIT” is closely connected to Tsinghua Holdings, a company, backed by the state and is focused on the development of various technologies, including intelligence and robotics.
The Defense Ministry of China was not available to respond to a request for comment over the issue.
The report by the Recorded Future was given to law enforcement upon which the FBI declined to comment.
The matter is not clear whether the targeted systems were compromised, but the highly focused, peculiar and extensive scanning activity indicates a “serious interest” in hacking them, said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future and former hear of the National Security Agency’s East Asia and Pacific cyber threats office.
“The spike in scanning activity at the conclusion of trade discussions on related topics indicates that the activity was likely an attempt to gain insight into the Alaskan perspective on the trip and strategic advantage in the post-visit negotiations,” Recorded Future said in the report.