An American company says it found evidence that a Chinese group attacked computers belonging to people and organizations in Cambodia.
U.S.-based security-research company FireEye reports one of the organizations targeted was Cambodia’s National Election Committee. It says the Chinese group also hacked computers belonging to Cambodia’s ministries of interior, foreign affairs and economics and finance.
In addition, FireEye says the hackers targeted a jailed opposition leader and his daughter, human rights activists, media organizations and two Cambodian diplomats overseas.
FireEye says it found that the targets were given corrupted computer files from an unsecured server operated by a hacking group called TEMP.Periscope.
Benjamin Read examined results of the investigation for FireEye. Read told the Associated Press (AP) the evidence suggested Chinese state involvement in the hacking. “They don’t go for credit card numbers or bank account numbers, they go for information that’s of use to a government,” he said.
“We expect this activity to provide the Chinese government with widespread visibility into Cambodian elections and government operations,” FireEye said in a statement.
Read added that the Chinese hackers used the same equipment and methods to target the Cambodian government as it has private companies. He said this suggests the Chinese government “doesn’t draw a line” between spying for political or business purposes.
In a statement, China’s foreign ministry said it did not have knowledge about TEMP.Periscope. It denied any involvement in hacking incidents.
Cambodians are preparing to vote in general elections on July 29. Rights groups have raised concerns about the fairness of the election process because of a series of actions by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Among the actions was a government ban on the country’s main opposition party and the jailing of its leader.
Cambodian officials accuse the National Rescue Party and its leader, Kem Sokha, of attempting to overthrow the government. But political observers and rights groups have said they believe the action was taken in an effort by Hun Sen’s government to stay in power.
Hun Sen has been a strong ally of China. He has ruled Cambodia for 33 years. FireEye did not provide specific evidence that TEMP.Periscope’s activities were providing support to Hun Sen’s ruling party before the elections.
One of the individuals targeted by the hackers was Monovithya Kem, a daughter of Kem Sokha. She told the Associated Press she repeatedly received emails that claimed to be from an activist working for a Cambodian non-profit group. The emails asked Monovithya Kem to open an attachment. FireEye said this was a trap, an attempt to gain control of her computer.
Monovithya Kem says she has been targeted by Cambodian hackers in the past. But she was shocked to learn that a Chinese group had attempted an attack this time.
“To know that a foreign group is specifically trying to get information from me - now that’s scary,” Kem told the AP from Washington, DC, where she is based. “What you’re dealing with is suddenly bigger,” she said.
FireEye says that in the past, it found evidence that TEMP.Periscope had sought maritime technology from businesses working on projects in the South China Sea.
The company said it expects the hacking group “to continue targeting a wide range of government and military agencies, international organizations, and private industry.”
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press and other sources. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
hack – v. to use technology illegally to get control of a computer to read information or spread a computer virus
visibility – n. the ability to see or be seen
draw – v. to create or make a picture of something
scary – adj. causing fear; frightening
specific – adj. special or particular
maritime – adj. of or related to the sea
range – n. a group or collection of different things or people that are usually similar in some way — usually singular — usually + of