China allegedly involved in Facebook scam against NATO officers

A social engineering scam reportedly traced to China fooled U.S. and British military leaders last year into “friending” a fake Facebook profile for NATO Senior Commander James Stavridis, which compromised their personal information.

Stavridis, a U.S. Navy admiral, has been a frequent target in the Facebook scheme, the U.K.-based Observer reported. Although the scam officially is of unknown origin, officials say it apparently originated in China, the Observer said.

Colleagues, including other NATO officers, who went to the fake page (which has been taken down), thought they were accepting legitimate friend requests from Stavridis, who does have a Facebook page and is a frequent user of social media.

But in accepting the request, they were exposing personal information including e-mail addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers and pictures, the Telegraph reported.

NATO staff members were warned about the fake account late in 2011. After Facebook was alerted, it was taken down, the Telegraph said.The information gathered, which officials said is not likely to have contained any sensitive military information, could be used in future attacks.

The Telegraph also cited unidentified sources saying NATO officials have been told the attacks were traced to "state-sponsored individuals in China."

A spear-phishing scam via Facebook would be a relatively new twist on the practice of spear-phishing e-mails, which have become increasingly common as part of advanced persistent threat attacks on government and corporate organizations.

In February, e-mail addresses for government users taken in a hack — attributed to the group Anonymous — of the security intelligence company Strategic Forecasting were being used for spear phishing against those users.

In January, researchers at Alienvault Labs warned that a new variant of the Sykipot Trojan, which had long been used in attacks originating from servers in China, could be used in phishing attacks aimed at compromising the Defense Department’s Common Access Cards.

China is increasingly being seen as a U.S. adversary in cyberspace, being suspected of or blamed for attacks ranging from those on RSA Security and Google, cyber-spy attacks against the chemical industry, and the attacks against dozens of government agencies and corporations in the Operation Shady RAT campaign.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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