Think tanks and law firms in Washington, experts say, are targets of pervasive espionage by cyber spies who are stealing sensitive information on business and policy matters and are using their unwitting victims to better understand the intricacies of Washington decision-making.
One prominent organization that found itself an unwitting target of cyber spying is the Brookings Institution, which runs a policy center on China. Brookings' computer systems were penetrated last summer by an intruder who tricked a still-unknown number of employees into installing back doors on Brookings' networks, according to several people with knowledge of the incident.Of course, this is nothing new. Here is what the Wall Street Journal reported last year:
"It's a routine occurrence now because think tanks are soft targets and you get good data," said James Lewis, a former State Department official and current cybersecurity specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has advised the Obama administration on cybersecurity policy. He said he was the target of a combined telephone and phishing attempt in 2010. "I just assume that all our communications are insecure."
One such email in November 2009 purported to come from Dennis Wilder, a former Asia specialist on the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration who was at the Brookings Institution at the time.
The email discussed a recent press briefing by the Chinese ambassador on climate change, and it contained an attachment concealing a virus that claimed to be a transcript of the press briefing. Mr. Wilder hasn't owned a Gmail account.CSIS's James Lewis, who was quoted in the above WSJ article, later said that the Chinese military is behind most of the hackers cyberspying on the US.