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Amnesty International hit by China-sponsored cyber attack

Amnesty International has said that it has been targeted by a China-sponsored cyber attack.

user icon Daniel Croft
Wed, 07 Dec 2022
Amnesty International hit by China-sponsored cyber attack
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The breach was first detected by the human rights organisation on 5 October, when hackers attempted to search for data specific to China, Hong Kong and several high-profile Chinese activists.

The organisation was left offline for a period of almost three weeks, during which time it hired cyber security experts from Secureworks to investigate the breach.

Findings indicate the work of an advanced persistent threat group (APT), which Secureworks called “a threat group, sponsored or tasked by the Chinese state”, due to the searches involved, the lack of monetisation attempt, the sophistication of the attack and the tools used, which are known to be used by Chinese state-sponsored hackers.

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“This assessment is based on the nature of the targeted information, as well as the observed tools and behaviours, which are consistent with those associated with Chinese cyber espionage threat groups,” said the Amnesty International Canada release.

“As an organisation advocating for human rights globally, we are very aware that we may be the target of state-sponsored attempts to disrupt or surveil our work,” said the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, Ketty Nivyabandi.

These will not intimidate us and the security and privacy of our activists, staff, donors and stakeholders remain our utmost priority.

This case of cyber espionage speaks to the increasingly dangerous context in which activists, journalists and civil society alike must navigate today.

Our work to investigate and call out these acts has never been more critical and relevant. We will continue to shine a light on human rights violations wherever they occur and to denounce the use of digital surveillance by governments to stifle human rights.”

Amnesty International Canada says that the investigation has “uncovered no evidence that any donor or membership data was exfiltrated”. Law enforcement and relevant staff, donors and stakeholders have also been notified of the breach.

The breach comes as relations between China and Canada are rocky after the latter announced the Indo-Pacific strategy that would see it spend CA$2.3 billion over a five-year period in expanding its military, security, trade and diplomatic ties with countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

The strategy shows clear support for the human rights of Taiwan, as well as Tibetans, Uyghurs and other minorities.

Canada has said that it will challenge China in cases of human rights violations.

“In areas of profound disagreement, we will challenge China, including when it engages in coercive behaviour — economic or otherwise — ignores human rights obligations or undermines our own national security interests and those of partners in the region.”

Despite this, Secureworks director Mike McLellan believes that the recent breach is more part of China’s recent intelligence operations than it is about relations between itself and Canada.

China uses its cyber capabilities to gather political and military intelligence and spy, and organisations like Amnesty are interesting to China because of the people they work with, the work that they do,” he told CBC News.

We see organisations like this targeted because China is interested in surveillance.

I think it’s much more about Amnesty Canada than Canada-China.”

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Born in the heart of Western Sydney, Daniel Croft is a passionate journalist with an understanding for and experience writing in the technology space. Having studied at Macquarie University, he joined Momentum Media in 2022, writing across a number of publications including Australian Aviation, Cyber Security Connect and Defence Connect. Outside of writing, Daniel has a keen interest in music, and spends his time playing in bands around Sydney.

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