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CCP-linked hackers stole data from ASEAN servers, analysts say

Benar News

Chinese Communist Party-linked hackers stole a trove of data in 2022 from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its member-states, which may have contained strategic information on South China Sea and talks with Washington, a cybersecurity firm and analysts said in early March 2023.

Confirming the theft reported by Wired magazine, cybersecurity firm Digital Forensic Indonesia said hackers stole 30,000 megabytes of data, including emails, from the ASEAN Secretariat and contacts in member states. Hackers accessed servers remotely and stole the data, firm chief executive Ruby Alamsyah told Benar News.

ASEAN has not released information on the specific impact of the cyberattacks. Ruby urged the regional bloc to work together to strengthen cyber defenses and said similar attacks on the ASEAN Secretariat has occurred several times since 2019, calling the hackers “state actors.”

The February 2022 attack came ahead of a summit between the United States and ASEAN in Phnom Penh.

Economic ties between ASEAN countries and the People’s Republic of China have been increasing, while member states have simultaneously expressed concerns about Beijing’s territorial claims to nearly all the South China Sea. The two sides are scheduled to resume talks in Indonesia in March 2023 on a South China Sea code of conduct. (Pictured: The ASEAN secretary general and foreign ministers attend the 32nd ASEAN Coordinating Council meeting in Jakarta in February 2023.)

ASEAN member-states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have their own territorial claims to portions of the waterway. The South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest for shipping and a source for oil, natural gas and minerals.

While Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to the dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the sea overlapping its exclusive economic zone.

Hunter S. Marston, an Asia researcher at the National University of Australia, said news about the breach of ASEAN servers by Chinese state-linked actors were “a serious breach of ASEAN’s trust.”

“This kind of behavior is equivalent to China’s predatory economic practices and there is a lot of strategic information that Beijing finds attractive — from negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to discussions on strategic partnerships with Australia or the United States,” Marston told Benar News.

ASEAN launched a Cybersecurity Cooperation Strategy document in 2017 as a roadmap for regional cooperation to achieve a secure cyberspace.

The document has been updated for the 2021 to 2025 period and focuses on strengthening governance and resilience as well as innovation.

Murugason R. Thangaratnam, chief executive of Malaysian cybersecurity company Novem CS, said he hoped the latest document would focus on sharing ideas and stories. “Cross-border cooperation is key,” he told Benar News. “We need to have the mentality of them against us. Good guys versus bad guys.”


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