Oil giants downed by Chinese hackers

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By: John E Dunn On: 24 Feb 2011 For: Techworld.com
A new U.S. report also alleges that the companies did not disclose the attacks to regulators

The Western energy companies at the centre of the alleged 'Night Dragon' attacks by Chinese hackers uncovered earlier this month have been named as Exxon, Shell, BP, Marathon, ConocoPhillips and oil services company Baker Hughes, according to U.S. reports.

The attacks were revealed by McAfee last month, which documented a sustained, long-running and ultimately successful campaign by Chinese-based attackers to penetrate major energy companies in order to steal sensitive documents.

An unsourced report for Bloomberg has named the companies involved which in truth is more akin to running down a list of the usual suspects. McAfee's document on Night Dragon left little to the imagination in working out which companies the attackers had targeted during the campaign.

The latest report also alleges that the companies did not disclose the attacks to regulators which could have one of two explanations. Either the companies did not realise what had been going on until recently or the attacks targeted proprietary data not considered to be of regulatory significance.

Only one company, Baker Hughes, has gone on the record over the break-ins, confirming the attacks on its servers but claiming that they were not of significance for investors.

At least some of McAfee's inside information on Night Dragon appears to have come from the small-to-controversial US 'black ops' security company HBGary, whose founder Greg Hoglun was mentioned by McAfee as a contributor.

Since then, HBGary has itself been targeted by the Anonymous hacking group after the company's alleged professional anti-Wikileaks activities and promises to unmask Anonymous resulted in its website being defaced and email system seriously compromised. Founder Hoglund cancelled a scheduled talk at the show.

Making matters even more convoluted, it was emails leaked during the Anonymous attack on HBGary's servers that form the strongest public confirmation of the identity of some of the companies attacked. After naming several companies involved, one contractor email notes that they were aware that the attacks had occurred.