Chinese hackers scanned for strategic economic opportunities in Alaska

Computers belonging to the state government of Alaska, including the local ISP, the governor’s office, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, etc were extensively scanned by hackers from China’s Tsinghua University, reads a report by cyber security firm Recorded Future.

As per a cyber security research firm Recorded Future, hackers operating from an elite Chinese university had probed computers of the American government and U.S. companies in the hope of finding tech and economic opportunities.

Their probe came in the wake of a U.S. trade delegation visit to China earlier this year.

Hackers from China’s Tsinghua University targeted U.S. energy and communications companies, as well as computers belonging to the Alaskan state government, in the weeks before and after Alaska’s trade mission to China, said cyber security researchers from Recorded Future.

The development underscores the tensions in an escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing.

In 2017, the state of Alaska was China’s largest foreign trading partner and imported goods over $1.32 billion.

In June, hackers from China scanned for software vulnerabilities just 24 hours after Alaska’s Governor Bill Walker said he would raise concerns in Washington about the economic damage caused by the U.S.-China trade dispute.

An official from China’s Tsinghua University stated the allegations were false.

“This is baseless. I’ve never heard of this, so I have no way to give a response,” said the official from Tsinghua University, who declined to give his name.

Tsinghua University, known as “China’s MIT,” is closely connected to Tsinghua Holdings, a state-backed company focused on the development of various technologies, including artificial intelligence and robotics.

China’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Recorded Future gave a copy of its report to law enforcement.

The FBI declined to comment.

So far, it isn’t clear whether the hackers were able to compromise the targeted computers. The highly focused, extensive and peculiar scanning indicated a “serious interest” in compromising them, said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future and former head of the National Security Agency’s East Asia and Pacific cyber threats office.

“The spike in scanning activity at the conclusion of trade discussions on related topics indicates that the activity was likely an attempt to gain insight into the Alaskan perspective on the trip and strategic advantage in the post-visit negotiations,” reads the Recorded Future report.

The organizations that were targeted include Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc, Atwood Oceanics, Ensco Plc, regional ISP TelAlaska, the Alaska governor’s office and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

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