Chinese spy agencies tried to hack German government e-mails before G20 summit: report

Senior civil servants and Merkel’s office received malware ahead of high-level talks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 9:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 10:01pm

Chinese intelligence agencies attempted to infiltrate e-mail accounts of senior German government officials shortly ahead of an international summit in Russia last year, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported, citing unidentified sources.

Senior members of several federal ministries and banks received malware-infected e-mails ahead of the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg in September last year, the report said.

An unnamed government spokesperson confirmed to the newspaper that hackers attempted to “compromise the Chancellery’s information security”, referring to the office of the Germany’s head of government, Angela Merkel.

The malware was programmed to send information to China, Der Spiegel said, citing conclusions reached by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the counter-intelligence agency of Europe’s largest economy.

The report did not say which ministries and banks were targeted. The e-mails allegedly imitated a conversation among senior civil servants preparing for the international summit.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment on the report in its routine press conference on Monday. It has in the past vehemently denied similar reports. 

The Saint Petersburg summit marked a crucial moment in American efforts to reach international consensus to military intervention in Syria.

In a watershed move, Chancellor Merkel sided with her Russian and Chinese counterparts in abstaining from supporting US military intervention in the civil war.

Later in the month, she extended her eight-years-long leadership over the war-weary Nato member state as her party won 41.5 per cent of the popular vote in a federal election, up from 33.8 in 2009.

Five European foreign ministries were targeted by Chinese hackers with e-mail malware in August last year, shortly ahead of the summit, computer security firm FireEye wrote in a report in December.

The California-based company traced the hacker group, which it named Ke3chang after one file it used, to servers in the US, mainland China and Hong Kong. It did not disclose which European countries were targeted.

“Based on this circumstantial evidence we believe that the Ke3chang attackers are operating within China. But their exact identities and motivation remain unknown,” the report concluded.