A file image of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei taking a selfie with an Amnesty International member in Melbourne on Dec. 10, 2015. Amnesty International Hong Kong has recently been subjected to a sophisticated cyberattack believed to have been carried out by state-sponsored hackers. (Photo by Paul Crock/AFP)
Amnesty International Hong Kong has been targeted by a sophisticated state-sponsored cyberattack consistent with those carried out by hostile groups linked to the Chinese government.
The rights group said the cyberattack was first detected on March 15 when state-of-the-art security monitoring tools detected suspicious activity on its Hong Kong branch’s IT systems.
Initial findings by cybersecurity experts revealed that the attacks were perpetrated using tools and techniques associated with specific advanced persistent threat groups (APTs), Amnesty said in a statement. Cyber forensic experts were able to establish links between the infrastructure used in this attack and previously reported APT campaigns associated with the Chinese government.
“This sophisticated cyberattack underscores the dangers posed by state-sponsored hacking and the need to be ever-vigilant to the risk of such attacks,” said Man-kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.
“The privacy and safety of all those we work with remains our priority. We took swift action to secure our systems and have provided guidance to help individuals ensure their personal data is protected.”
The first phase of the investigation found extensive evidence that the perpetrators belonged to a known APT group, using tactics, techniques and procedures consistent with a well-developed adversary.
Amnesty International said it was unable to give exact details of the areas targeted or the precise nature of the attack as the investigation is still ongoing. A technical report including indicators of compromise will be released when the investigation has concluded, the group’s statement said.
The cyberattack occurred at a time when Chinese authorities are hindering cooperation between international and domestic NGOs, and are continuing to target human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, religious believers and academics both abroad and at home.