At least six U.S. state government entities were breached last year when hackers working for the Chinese government accessed their computer networks, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
In its report, private cybersecurity firm Mandiant did not offer a motive for the breaches, which began last May and continued through last month, but said the Chinese group believed responsible, APT41, is known to hack for espionage purposes, as well as financial gain.
Mandiant did not identify the compromised states in the report.
“While the ongoing crisis in Ukraine has rightfully captured the world’s attention and the potential for Russian cyber threats are real, we must remember that other major threat actors around the world are continuing their operations as-usual,” Geoff Ackerman, a principal threat analyst at Mandiant, said in a statement provided to the AP.
“We cannot allow other cyber activity to fall to the wayside, especially given our observations that this campaign from APT41, one of the most prolific threat actors around, continues to this day,” he added.
According to Mandiant’s report, the hackers took advantage of a previously unknown vulnerability in a commercial application used by 18 states for animal health management.
They also exploited a software flaw known as Log4j that was identified in December and that U.S. officials said was potentially present in hundreds of millions of devices.
Within hours of a public advisory about the vulnerability, the report said, the hackers began exploiting it, using it to breach the networks of two state governments for the second time.
In a statement provided to the AP, Rufus Brown, a senior threat analyst at Mandiant, said, that the hackers’ “persistence to gain access into government networks, exemplified by re-compromising previous victims and targeting multiple agencies within the same state, show that whatever they are after it is important. We have found them everywhere, and that is unnerving.”
APT41 was implicated in a 2020 Justice Department indictment that accused Chinese hackers of targeting more than 100 companies and institutions in the U.S. and abroad, including social media and video game companies, universities, and telecommunications providers.
“Through all the new, some things remain unchanged: APT41 continues to be undeterred by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment in September 2020,” the report said.
The Biden administration has announced plans to protect federal government systems from cyberattacks, an especially urgent concern in light of the SolarWinds espionage campaign, in which Russian intelligence agents used supply chain vulnerabilities to hack into the networks of at least nine U.S. agencies and dozens of private-sector companies.
The Chinese government has denied U.S. hacking accusations.
In a deal worth $5.4 billion, Mandiant announced Tuesday that it is being acquired by Google.
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