Security Firm Says Chinese Hackers Targeting U.S. Experts on Iraq

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CrowdStrike says hacking began on June 18 —the day the rebel group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant attacked an oil refinery.

A private cyber security firm has discovered evidence that a suspected Chinese government hacker group has been targeting U.S. experts on Iraq.

CrowdStrike — a firm consisting of former U.S. government officials and credited with exposing the motives of Russian hacker group Energetic Bear — claims they have discovered that hackers belonging to "Deep Panda" have shifted from attacking experts associated with Southeast Asian geopolitical affairs to attacking the computers of U.S. think tank employees specializing in Iraq. The hacking began on June 18 —the day the rebel group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacked an oil refinery. 

"They immediately started going after Middle East specialists and experts, so it was a clear indication they were receiving tasking," CrowdStrike VP of Intelligence Adam Meyers told The Wire. "They're definitely one of the more advanced actors operating out of China."

In a company blog post published Monday, co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch wrote that Iraq, as the fifth-largest source of crude oil for China, presented a worthy target of concern for the Chinese government. 

Meyers says the group accessed digital documents by using "powershell scripts," a tool that initiates the download of a malicious software called "MadHatter" typically used by Deep Panda to infiltrate machines. The tool also doesn't leave data behind on victim disks, but because CrowdStrike had been tracing the group's activities since 2011 , the firm noticed the behavior pattern and attributed it to Deep Panda.

Chinese officials have already dismissed the report.

"Some U.S. Internet security firms ignore the U.S. threat to the Internet and constantly seize upon the so-called China Internet threat," spokesman Hong Lei said at a news conference in Beijing. "The evidence they produce is fundamentally untrustworthy and unworthy of comment."

Though Meyers said CrowdStrike does not know the size of Deep Panda, the firm has found the group tends to strike organizations en masse at least once a month.