A leading security researcher today published perhaps the best evidence yet showing a link between Chinese hackers and the sophisticated cyber intrusions at Google, Adobe and a slew of other top U.S. corporations late last year.
In mid-December, Google discovered that its networks had been breached by attackers who appeared by coming from China. A Wall Street Journal article cited researchers saying the attacks — dubbed Operation Aurora — were launched from six Internet addresses in Taiwan, which experts say is a common staging ground for Chinese espionage.
While Google itself has said that the attacks “originated in China,” experts have been quick to point out that attackers commonly route their communications through faraway computers, and that the real attackers may be located anywhere in the world. But new clues about the origins of the malicious software that was used to exploit the as-yet unpatched Internet Explorer vulnerability suggest that the exploit was in fact assembled by Chinese programmers
The evidence comes from forensic work published today by Joe Stewart, director of malware research for Atlanta based managed security firm SecureWorks. Stewart said he found that a snippet of the source code used in the backdoor Trojan horse program planted by the exploit (called “Hydraq” by various anti-virus companies) matched a source code sample that was detailed in a Chinese-language white paper on mathematical algorithms used in electronics.
Stewart said a Google search for one of the key text strings in that code sample shows that it is virtually unknown outside of China, and that almost every page with meaningful content concerning the algorithm is written in Chinese.