"There is an attack exploiting a zero-day vulnerability in one of the major document types," Jellenc said. "They infect whichever users they can, and leverage any contact information or any access information on the victim's computer to misrepresent themselves as that victim." The goal is to "infect someone with administrative access to the systems that hold the intellectual property that they're trying to obtain," he added.
Once they have the data they move it out of the corporate network.
The attacks followed the same game plan that security experts have seen in attacks on non-governmental organizations and the defense industry, where contractors and government agencies have been hit with similar targeted spying attacks for years now. Some of Verisign's defense partners said that they'd seen some of the same IP addresses used in previous, "very similar attacks," Jellenc said.
"Whomever is doing this, this isn't their first attack," he said. "These contractors also confirmed the China origin of the attacks."
This type of attack was described in detail in an October Northrop Grumman report, (pdf) commissioned by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Analysts concluded that "China is likely using its maturing computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. government and industry by conducting a long term, sophisticated computer network exploitation campaign."
At least 10 to 20 terabytes of sensitive data had been taken from U.S. government networks as part of what the report's authors called a "long term, persistent campaign to collect sensitive but unclassified information."
For the past few years, China has been focused on moving its economy to the next level, said James Mulvenon, director of Defense Group Inc.'s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. China built its economy processing products for export, but it is not known for cutting-edge research and development. The country has been taking steps to spur innovation within its borders, pressuring multinational companies to build research labs in China and developing the talent to eventually replace these businesses with indigenous competitors.
Mulvenon doesn't find it implausible that a nation such as China would spy on U.S. companies.
"If you're having trouble [innovating] or if you want to prime the pump, the best way is to go out and steal cutting-edge IP," he said. "It's a plausible explanation for why they would go after Silicon Valley companies on such a broad scale because they're really trying to jump start IT innovation in China."
John Ribeiro in Bangalore and Jeremy Kirk in London contributed to this story.
Web giants attacked
- White House orders security review in wake of WikiLeaks disclosure
- Leaked U.S. document links China to Google attack
- Update: Researchers track cyber-espionage ring to China
- Google, China now playing cat and mouse?
- McAfee: 'Amateur' malware not used in Google attacks
- Military warns of 'increasingly active' cyber-threat from China
- China: Google 'totally wrong' to stop censoring
- Update: Google stops censoring in China
- Google's China ad partners wait in 'incomparable pain'
- Google may soon leave China, reports say
This pilot fish is a contractor at a military base, working on some very cool fire-control systems for tanks. But when he spots something obviously wrong during a live-fire test, he can't get the firing-range commander's attention.
- IT Certification Study Tips
- Register for this Computerworld Insider Study Tip guide and gain access to hundreds of premium content articles, cheat sheets, product reviews and more.
- Reduce federal infrastructure risk with compliance management and situational awareness
- IBM continuous monitoring and management solutions deliver real-time situational awareness to help federal agencies understand vulnerabilities, and protect the infrastructure.
- Improving IT Efficiencies: Four Advantages of Multi-Tenant Data Centers
- Increasing demands on IT are forcing organizations to rethink their data center options. For many organizations, that means turning to the flexibility afforded...
- Accelerating Cloud Deployment and Operations with Managed Services
- Companies that do not have sufficient in-house expertise to either deploy or maintain an IaaS cloud should turn to Managed Service Providers .
- Rethinking IT Operations in the Cloud
- This paper breaks down the challenges that often prevent the cloud from delivering the fast, flexible and affordable infrastructure companies seek - and...
- Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud-Enabled Managed Hosting, North America
- Cloud-enabled managed hosting brings cloudlike consumption and provisioning attributes to the traditional managed hosting market All Government IT White Papers
- NSS Labs & Cisco Present: Evaluating Leading Breach Detection Systems Today's constantly evolving advanced malware and APTs can evade point-in-time defenses to penetrate networks. Security professionals must evolve their strategy in lockstep to...
- Will the Real Endpoint Threat Detection and Response Please Stand Up? This webinar explores new technologies & process for protecting endpoints from advanced attackers as well as the innovations that are pushing the envelope...
- What should I look for in a Next Generation Firewall? SANS Provides Guidance With so many vendors claiming to have a Next Generation Firewall (NGFW), it can be difficult to tell what makes each one different....
- Why Are Customers Really Deploying an NGFW? It seems every IT Security expert is talking about the NGFW, but what are people really doing? This webcast covers 5 real-world customer...
- Charting Your Analytical Future - "Making predictive analytics part of your business processes" Webinar This session will show how predictive analytics can be used throughout the organization by anyone looking for answers and how organizations can make...
- All Government IT Webcasts