Apr 13, 2015 · 2 minutes

A new report claims the Chinese government spied on India, Singapore, and other countries in Southeast Asia with a decade-long cyber espionage effort.

The cybersecurity company FireEye reports that a group it calls APT 30 has targeted these countries with more than 200 different kinds of malware since at least 2005. The group is also said to have infected air-gapped networks -- which put physical space between the secured network and any unsecured connections -- in 2006, predating what were once thought to be the earliest known examples of those attacks demonstrated by Russian hackers in 2008.

The group's targets possess "information that most likely serves the Chinese government’s needs for intelligence about key Southeast Asian regional political, economic, and military issues, disputed territories, and discussions related to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party," FireEye claims.

Yet the company is careful to note that it's hard to attribute such campaigns. "There’s no smoking gun that shows this is a Chinese government operation, but all signs point to China” FireEye’s Bryce Boland told TechCrunch. "There’s huge intellectual property development in Asia — that’s the new battleground."

FireEye's comes hot on the heels of another report demonstrating China's increasing digital prowess. That report focused on what researchers call the Great Cannon, a tool used to target GitHub and the GreatFire advocacy group:

Citizen Lab reports that the Great Cannon is similar to, but separate from, the Great Firewall. It works by intercepting unencrypted traffic headed toward servers in China, redirecting the traffic to the government’s intended target, and using it to overwhelm whomever’s on its receiving end of its blast.

The researchers say the Great Cannon represents 'a significant escalation in state-level information control' because it might normalize the 'widespread use of an attack tool to enforce censorship by weaponizing users.' China now has both a wall to keep out its enemies and a cannon to obliterate its targets. Citizen Lab's researchers fear that the Great Cannon "could be used to spy on anyone who happens to fetch content hosted on a Chinese computer, even by visiting a non-Chinese website that contains Chinese advertising content," as the New York Times reported. Not that it needs the Great Cannon for that.

That's what APT 30 is for, assuming FireEye is correct in linking the group to the Chinese government. Now if only the group could get a cool nickname like the Great Firewall or the Great Cannon. Then it would be that much scarier.

[photo by Jim Bowen]