When the US Air Force designated six “cyber tools” as “weapons” in April this year, Quartz asked, “What the heck is a cyber-weapon, anyway?” The answer, we found, was vague: Any computer program meant to inflict damage could qualify. These could be developed by military, government, commercial entities or lone actors.
A new report (pdf) from FireEye, an American computer security firm, suggests that they can also, to extend the “cyber-weapon” metaphor, come from “cyber arms dealers.” The report found that 11 seemingly disparate attacks on a wide variety of government and commercial targets may have originated from a single source. They shared the same tools, the same elements of code, the same digital certificates, and identical timestamps, indicating that even if the actors were different, they acquired their tools—or weapons—from the same place.
The attacks, which together cover several years, were all “advanced persistent threats,” which are more or less what they sounds like. FireEye was able to tie in all the attacks to a single campaign, nicknamed “Sunshop,” which among other things targeted the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, Korean military think tanks, and an Uyghur discussion forum. All the attacks seemed to originate from China, the report found.