recommended reading

Those G20 Briefings in Your Inbox May Be Laced With Spyware

Journalists stand outside the media center of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg Wednesday.

Journalists stand outside the media center of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg Wednesday. // Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

Infected emails seemingly bearing feedback on UK government draft G20 briefings -- that actually steal data -- are targeting government officials and economic development leaders ahead of this week's global summit in Russia, researchers say. Spearphishing campaigns that coincide with the G20 are common, but this time researchers are questioning whether the documents might truly be genuine.

According to cybersecurity firm Symantec, a brief message in the body of the email thanks the recipient for circulating a series of "building block" documents on various global issues and new UK feedback on the documents.

"What is interesting about these documents is that each of them has track changes enabled and contains the reported comments from the UK called out in the original email," Symantec researcher Satnam Narang writes in a blog post. "At this time, we cannot verify the authenticity of these documents, but from our observation, modifications were made to them earlier this month, which states that they were last modified by a user named 'UK Government." 

The five files are labeled "UKcomments," "UK-Building Block_DEVELOPMENT," "UK-Building Block_EMPLOYMENT," "UK-Building Block_ANTICORRUPTION" and "UK-Building Block_TRADE. 

When the recipient tries to open a certain files, the click simultaneously executes malicious software and displays the non-malicious text. 

The email claims to be sent on behalf of a G20 representative. 

Researchers have identified the malware as "PoisonIvy," a virus developed by a Chinese speaker that creates a backdoor on the compromised computer for the hacker to extract information. It also can monitor key strokes.

The purported UK comments shown to the victim include, for example, "While recognising that there is no 'one size fits all' labour market policy, actions to promote more and better jobs could include: Improve job quality, including working conditions, payment of adequate salaries, access to social protection."

Another G20-related spearphishing campaign preying on influential individuals apparently involves a known hacker team tied to the Chinese military, according to Kaspersky Lab cyber specialists.

Symantec told the New York Times a couple of years ago that March 2009 set a record for spearphishing attacks "when there was a surge that coincided with a G20 summit meeting."

Threatwatch Alert

Credential-stealing malware / User accounts compromised / Software vulnerability

Android Malware Infects More than 1M Phones, Adds 13,000 Devices a Day

See threatwatch report


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.