Government hand suspected in cyber espionage

Vietnamese officials taking part in a drill to prepare for a cyber attack. Photo courtesy Vietnam.net bridge.

Vietnam appears to have stepped up cyber espionage attacks on foreign interests and companies, according to a new report by the American cyber security firm, FireEye.

It said foreign companies operating in Vietnam had been systematically targeted by hackers, the same group behind earlier attacks on foreign journalists, dissidents and members of the Vietnamese diaspora.

FireEye said the hackers appeared to be working for or on behalf of the government. It said the type of information they sought was extremely specific and only of interest to regulators and other government agencies.

The activity has no connection with the current global spate of attacks in more than 100 countries.

FireEye has given the Vietnamese hackers the name APT32, the initials signifying an “advanced persistent threat” by state sponsored actors, normally only associated with Russia or China.

Cyber security firms have detected cyber espionage activity directed at political activists inside and outside Vietnam since
2013.

The latest report suggests that state backed cyber operations are becoming more extensive and ambitious.

It says that the hackers have targeted foreign companies involved in manufacturing, consumer products and the hospitality sectors, sometimes just as they were being called to account by regulators. The report says the espionage operations could also be aimed at intellectual property theft and ultimately at undermining the competitiveness of foreign companies.

A foreign ministry spokesman said that the government did not permit or participate in any cyber attacks.

He said any attacks should be condemned and punished in accordance with the law.

FireEye warned that cyber espionage operations had posed a threat to freedom of speech and the media in recent years and could be expected to continue.