Germany has joined a group of at least four other countries that have been targeted by hackers apparently located in China, according to a media report published on Monday.
The report, which came in this week's edition of Der Spiegel, fingered the world's most populous nation (corrected)as the source of Internet attacks which have stolen sensitive data from German government ministries. The article described the hallmarks of targeted Trojan-horse programs that have previously attacked -- and likely continue to attack -- companies and government agencies in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, according to computer-security experts.
The news broke at the start of a one-week state visit to China by Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. Following a one-hour meeting on Monday with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the two top officials told gathered press that they had agreed on the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) as an important topic for bilateral strategic dialog, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
While denying any Chinese government involvement, Premier Wen stated that China would investigate the issues.
"The Chinese government attaches great importance to the hacker attack on the German government networks," Wen said, according to Xinhua. "IPR protection is not only a issue between countries, but also a requirement for China itself in its development."
Targeted Trojan-horse attacks -- highly personalized e-mail attacks where the malicious program masquerades as a legitimate message attachment -- have become more frequent over the past two years. In the United States, lawmakers have started to put pressure on government agencies to secure their networks against these attacks. Last year, the State Department acknowledged that attackers had invaded their systems and searched for information on China and North Korea.In the latest case, the malicious programs were concealed in Office documents. The spy software infected computers within the chancellory as well as the economics, defense and research ministries, and shipped the data back to computers located in China, according to officials quoted by Der Spiegel.
One German official told the magazine that two-thirds of alleged economic espionage cases involve the Chinese government or companies.
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CORRECTION: The article was changed to clarify that China is the largest country in the world by population.
Posted by: Robert Lemos