Cyber-spies Breached Nortel For Nearly A Decade: Report
February 15, 2012

Cyber-spies Breached Nortel For Nearly A Decade: Report

Hackers allegedly breached the network of Canadian telecom company Nortel in 2000, and had free rein to spy on the company´s internal network and communications until 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The cyber-spies, allegedly from China, used seven passwords stolen from Nortel´s top executives, including the company's CEO, to download vast amounts of sensitive documents, including technical papers, research and development reports, employee emails and other documents, the Journal reported.

"They had access to everything... They had plenty of time. All they had to do was figure out what they wanted,” said Brian Shields, a former employee of Nortel for 19 years, who led an internal investigation into the breach.

Shields told the Journal the hackers also hid spying software so deeply on employee computers that it took the company years to determine the scope of the problem.

Nortel was once Canada's largest company, but filed for bankruptcy in 2009.  The company sold off IP addresses, and put its patent portfolio up for sale in 2010 to pay off its creditors.

The Journal report underscores the threat posed by Chinese hackers, who U.S. intelligence officials have described as the "most active and persistent perpetrators" of economic espionage in the world.

The Chinese embassy has denied the allegations, saying such attacks are "transnational and anonymous."

Sophos analyst Graham Cluley also warned not to immediately blame China.

"It's very hard to prove a Chinese involvement. Yes, the data might have been transmitted to an IP address based in Shanghai, but it is possible that a computer in Shanghai has been compromised by.. say.. a remote hacker in Belgium," he told PCMagazine.

"It's all too easy to point a finger, but it's dangerous to keep doing so without proof."

The Journal's report was released just hours before Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping -- expected to become China's president next year -- was to meet President Barack Obama at the beginning of a week-long tour of the United States.


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