Foreign journalists in Beijing have been bombarded with information-stealing malware in the past fortnight, as tensions rise before the much anticipated Communist Party leadership transition later this autumn.
The malware was delivered in a standard email attachment, with the attackers relying on tried and tested social engineering tactics to trick the recipient into opening the malicious files, according to Reuters.
Independent security expert Greg Walton told the news wire that the emails themselves purported to come from either a Beijing-based correspondent or a Washington-based think tank, with both referencing the upcoming Communist Party leadership handover.
They contained the same type of malware, designed to send encrypted info from the victim’s computer to an external server located in the UK, Reuters' report said.
Chinese authorities' response to news of the incident was vague.
"China manages the internet according to law and has engaged in cooperation with the international community to promote internet security. Internet security is a complicated issue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told the news wire.
"China is also a victim of internet attacks. The source of these internet attacks is very difficult to determine. Reaching conclusions without sufficient evidence or fair and thorough investigations, it's just not serious."
Although the exact timing has yet to be revealed, it is widely expected that the Communist Party top brass will step aside this autumn and make way for a new intake of leaders. Such a transition happens every ten years.
Given the heightened political sensitivity in China at this time it’s not unusual to see spikes in malware targeted at specific groups like journalists and Party critics, coupled with a more vigorous approach to online censorship. ®