Security company McAfee has uncovered what appears to be the largest coordinated hacking campaign ever seen, with 72 government and business organisations across the globe all being hit.
After discovering the network intrusions McAfee highlighted its belief that the intrusions were part of ongoing campaign going back at least five-years, perpetrated by a "state actor." The campaign has since been called "Operation Shady RAT."
The laundry-list of victims included the United States, Taiwanese, Indian, South Korean, Vietnamese and Canadian governments. The report also highlighted the United Nations (UN), International Olympic Committee (IOC), the World Anti-Doping Agency and numerous tech companies -- some with high-profile military contracts -- as other targets.
The UN was reportedly hit back in 2008. The attack hit its Secretariat in Geneva, the hackers reportedly remained active, trawling through the network unnoticed for nearly two years before being removed. The UN has since clarified that it is aware of McAfee's report and is in the midst of investigating whether an intrusion did indeed occur.
McAfee discovered the extent of the hacking campaign earlier this year in March. The campaign was uncovered when McAfee researchers stumbled upon logs of the attacks while reviewing a command and control server found during its 2009 investigation into defence company data breaches.
According to the security firm the earliest network intrusions found thus far date back to mid-2006.
In the report subsequently published, McAfee's vice president of threat research Dmitri Alperovitch wrote on the attack:
"Even we were surprised by the enormous diversity of the victim organizations and were taken aback by the audacity of the perpetrators.
"What is happening to all this data ... is still largely an open question. However, if even a fraction of it is used to build better competing products or beat a competitor at a key negotiation (due to having stolen the other team's playbook), the loss represents a massive economic threat."
Though McAfee's report didn't mention it by name, as reported by Reuters, several security firms and governments have glanced China's way when asked who is responsible for Operation Shady RAT.
Speaking to Reuters Jim Lewis, a cyber expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies commented on Operation Shady Rat: "Everything points to China. It could be the Russians, but there is more that points to China than Russia."
Lewis' comments reflect the growing suspicion following China and its alleged covert cyber ops. The country's Shandong Province has constantly attracted negative attention for alleged government funded cyber attacks.
The Shandong province is the location Google traced as the origin point of several cyber attacks on its computer systems.
Further to this, the Jinan city is home to one of the People's Liberation Army's six technical reconnaissance bureaus and a technical college that is commonly suspected of playing a role in several cyber attacks, including those inflicted on the International Monetary Fund and U.S. Whitehouse.
Numerous defence analysts have gone so far as to suggest that the city's technical college may in fact be a government funded hacker training camp -- an allegation China vehemently denies.
McAfee's paper went on to state its belief that Operation Shady RAT may only be the beginning. Commenting on the future Alperovitch wrote:
"I am convinced that every company in every conceivable industry with significant size and valuable intellectual property and trade secrets has been compromised (or will be shortly), with the great majority of the victims rarely discovering the intrusion or its impact.
"In fact, I divide the entire set of Fortune Global 2000 firms into two categories: those that know they've been compromised and those that don't yet know."
UPDATE: China's official newspaper has issued a report denying the country's involvement in the hacks.