China 'hacked' Norway's Visma to steal client secrets

The attack was part of what Western countries previously said is a global hacking campaign by China's Ministry of State Security to steal intellectual property and corporate secrets, according to cybersecurity researchers.
The attack was part of what Western countries previously said is a global hacking campaign by China's Ministry of State Security to steal intellectual property and corporate secrets, according to cybersecurity researchers.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Hackers working on behalf of Chinese intelligence breached the network of Norwegian software firm Visma to steal secrets from its clients, cyber-security researchers said yesterday.

The attack was part of what Western countries said in December was a global hacking campaign by China's Ministry of State Security to steal intellectual property and corporate secrets, according to investigators at cyber-security firm Recorded Future.

China's Ministry of State Security has no publicly available contacts. The Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment, but Beijing denies any involvement in cyber-enabled spying.

Visma took the decision to talk publicly about the breach to raise industry awareness about the hacking campaign, which is known as Cloudhopper and targets technology service and software providers in order to reach their clients.

Cyber-security firms and Western governments have warned about Cloudhopper several times since 2017 but have not disclosed the identities of the firms affected.

Reuters reported in December that Hewlett Packard Enterprise and IBM were two of the campaign's victims, and Western officials cautioned in private that there were many more.

IBM said it had no evidence sensitive corporate data had been compromised, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise said it could not comment on the Cloudhopper campaign.

 
 
 
 

Visma, which reported global revenues of US$1.3 billion (S$1.8 billion) last year, provides business software products to more than 900,000 companies across Scandinavia and parts of Europe.

The company's operations and security manager, Mr Espen Johansen, said the attack was detected shortly after the hackers accessed Visma's systems and he was confident no client networks were accessed.

"But if I put on my paranoia hat, this could have been catastrophic," he said. "If you are a big intelligence agency somewhere in the world and you want to harvest as much information as possible, you of course go for the convergence points, it's a given fact," he added.

In a report with investigators at cyber-security firm Rapid7, Recorded Future said the attackers first accessed Visma's network by using a stolen set of login credentials and were operating as part of a hacking group known as APT 10, which Western officials say is behind the Cloudhopper campaign.

The US Department of Justice in December charged two alleged members of APT 10 with hacking US government agencies and dozens of businesses around the world on behalf of China's Ministry of State Security.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2019, with the headline 'China 'hacked' Norway's Visma to steal client secrets'. Print Edition | Subscribe