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China's hacker network: what you need to know| GuyWhoKnowsThings

Leaked documents posted online last week show how the The Chinese government is working with private hackers to obtain confidential information from foreign governments and companies.

The hackers worked for a security company called I-Soon, part of a network of spies for hire that worked closely with Beijing.

The leak showed how China's main surveillance agency, the Ministry of Public Security, has increasingly recruited contractors to attack government targets and private companies as part of a cyber espionage campaign in Asia. The leak is likely to stoke fears among Washington leaders who have warned against such attacks in the United States.

I-Soon targeted telecommunications companies, online gambling companies and local governments across Asia. The hackers were able to obtain private information including:

  • records of a Vietnamese airline, with the identities of the travelers.

  • personal information from accounts on platforms such as Telegram and Facebook.

  • access to the private website of the traffic police in Vietnam.

  • software that helped run disinformation campaigns and hack accounts on X.

The leak also included internal discussions at I-Soon, reflecting a grueling workplace and the company's efforts to market its services to the government. I-Soon is one of hundreds of private companies supporting China's hacking efforts by selling spy services and stolen data.

I-Soon, a private security contractor, billed the Chinese government as little as $15,000 for access to the private website of the traffic police in Vietnam and up to $278,000 for access to personal information from social media sites. China has a long history of suppressing dissent among its citizens through surveillance.

The leaks were posted publicly on GitHub, a software platform where programmers share code. Vital information has been leaked on the forum before, including X source code.

Cybersecurity experts interviewed by The New York Times said the documents appeared authentic. It is not clear who leaked the information or what their motives were.

The leaked materials do not belong to any US entity, but they offer a rare look at how China's Ministry of State Security relies on private companies to run its espionage operations.

U.S. officials have long accused China of leading breaches of U.S. companies and government agencies, warnings that have intensified as tech companies rush to develop artificial intelligence. Increased scrutiny has led Silicon Valley venture capitalists to pull out invest in Chinese startups.

In 2013, it was revealed that a Chinese army unit was behind hacks of several American companies. In 2015, a data breach apparently carried out by chinese hackers obtained a trove of records from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, including personal information on millions of government employees.

Last weekend in Munich, FBI Director Christopher Wray said hacking operations from China were targeting the United States on “a larger scale than we have seen before,” and ranked them among the top threats. to the national security of the United States.

Despite the embarrassment that the leak of hacked documents could represent, few experts expect China to stop its piracy, given the information it can provide.

“I wouldn't expect such activities to stop as a result, just more efforts to prevent future leaks,” said Mareike Ohlberg, an Indo-Pacific relations specialist at the US-based German Marshall Fund.

David E. Sanger and Keith Bradsher contributed reports.

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