FireEye cautions Malaysian firms of heightened cyber risk

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Malaysia’s political shift and Belt & Road links lead to heightened interest from state-linked.

FireEye believes that China-based threat groups have deployed systematic cyber espionage operations against close allies in Southeast Asia. (Photo: Pixabay)

FireEye has cautioned Malaysian organisations about the heightened risk of cyber espionage in the wake of the country’s political transition and shifts on projects related to the Belt & Road Initiative, which has generated interest from a variety of cyber espionage threat actors.

The Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious, multi-year project across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to develop a land and maritime trade network that will project China’s influence across the greater region. FireEye analysts have observed a pattern of targeting by China-based groups and others against organisations with links to the Belt & Road Initiative.

Additionally, FireEye believes that China-based threat groups have deployed systematic cyber espionage operations against close allies in Southeast Asia, such as the recently reported widespread compromise of the Cambodian political system by TEMP.Periscope which was reported by FireEye.

“Malaysia’s new government has called for a renegotiation of the terms of some Belt & Road projects, which is likely to generate some uncertainty in parties interested in the outcome of these projects and other regional developments. We expect espionage activity against Malaysian organisations will increase in an attempt to gain insight into current events,” said Sandra Joyce, vice president and head of global intelligence operations at FireEye.

“It’s imperative for Malaysian organisations across the public and private sectors to take steps to strategically manage their risk, by understanding who’s likely to target them, why, how, and ensure they are able to quickly detect and respond to these attacks,” continued Joyce.

FireEye believes the Belt & Road Initiative will be a driver of regional cyber threat activity from a variety of actors—including China-based threats groups—to gain an information advantage and collect business intelligence on individual projects and agreements. FireEye has witnessed indications that cyber espionage collection related to the Belt & Road Initiative is increasing. This includes both Chinese cyber espionage activity targeting countries in the region and other nation-state cyber operations targeting Chinese organisations.

Based on historic activity, expected targeted sectors include regional governments, academia and think tanks, transportation, construction, manufacturing, energy, mining, and finance.

Asia Pacific findings compound the challenge

Asia Pacific companies took almost five times as long as the global median time to detect cyber attacks according to the M-Trends 2018 report on the preparedness of firms to respond to breaches.

“One reason cyber espionage is prevalent in Southeast Asia is that most organisations are not able to detect the intrusion,” continued Joyce.

M-Trends 2018 data indicates that Asia Pacific organisations which have been victims of a targeted compromise are more likely to be targeted again. Asia Pacific organisations were twice as likely to have experienced multiple incidents from multiple attackers, compared to organisations in EMEA or North America. More than 91 per cent of Asia Pacific organisations which had at least one significant attack attempt were targeted again by the same or a similarly motivated attack group. Of those organisations, 82 per cent had multiple attackers identified.

FireEye representatives briefed reporters on the sidelines of the company’s security conference, Cyber Defense Live Kuala Lumpur. The conference brings together experts from Malaysia and beyond to discuss the latest developments and best practices when it comes to the technology, expertise and intelligence that helps protect Malaysian organisations from attackers.