By Rob Lever
WASHINGTON (AFX) - Cyberspace is becoming a new battleground for the
United States and China, amid growing concerns about Chinese
industrial espionage through various types of computer worms, security
At least one 'Trojan horse' program used to steal files from infected
computers has been traced to servers in China, providing further
evidence that US companies may be targets, analysts said.
Security firms have long been concerned about various types of
malicious software used to steal files or passwords. But some newer
programs seem designed as a more sophisticated and targeted effort.
Joe Stewart, a researcher with the US security firm Lurhq, said that
by reverse-engineering a recent PC worm known as Myfip, he found a
clear connection to China.
'All the e-mails we've traced back with this particular attachment
came from a single address in China,' Stewart told AFP, adding that it
is 'highly likely' that the program was used for espionage against US
high-tech and manufacturing firms.
Stewart said the program appeared to have been originally developed as
a way to steal student exam papers and then expanded so that it can
now copy many types of documents, including computer-assisted drawings
and Microsoft Word files.
Forbes magazine, which first reported the Chinese origin of Myfip,
said the worm had been propagating by spam e-mails that activate the
program when recipients click on attachments. Forbes said about a
dozen versions of Myfip may have been in circulation and used to steal
sensitive documents including mechanical designs and circuit board
Analysts point out that tracking attacks or malicious software can be
difficult because the origins can be disguised.
But Marcus Sachs of SRI International, who also directs the
industry-academic SANS Internet Storm Center that monitors
cyberattacks, said the evidence against China is solid.
'I believe firmly that the Chinese are using tools like Myfip to
conduct industrial espionage on the US and other industrial countries
that have mature data networks,' he told AFP.
Sachs said the latest types of malicious software, or 'malware,'
represent a new strategy by creators of the programs.
'Most of the credit card theft, money laundering and fraud is coming
from Russia or former Soviet Union countries,' Sachs said.
'The Chinese seem to be a bit more clever in covering their tracks and
are more likely conducting covert raids for corporate secrets, rather
than chasing money like their Russian organized crime counterparts.'
But the techniques may not be limited to industrial espionage. Some
analysts say similar malware may be targeting government agencies in a
bid to steal other types of secrets.
The online newsletter SecurityFocus said the wave of cyberattacks that
hit Britain last month may have been part of an effort to obtain
government documents from British and US agencies.
Britain's National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre said
last month that a series of trojan-laden e-mail attacks were
'targeting UK government and companies,' in an apparent 'covert
gathering and transmitting of commercially or economically valuable
The June 16 warning does not specifically mention China but said most
of the evidence pointed to computers in 'the Far East.'
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