China's Ministry of State Security has warned the public about foreign espionage activities under the guise of safety protocol testing, following the case of an IT engineer who was hired by a foreign intelligence agency to deploy malware onto China's military and high-tech companies.
The ministry said in a social media post on Monday that the engineer, surnamed Wang, was contacted early this year by a foreign software developer who invited him to configure digital signatures and conduct antivirus tests for dozens of its software programs. The developer promised Wang a hefty payment for his work.
However, as the talks progressed, the developer began to make suspicious demands. They insisted on communicating through designated software with encrypted links and gave inconsistent reasons for their secrecy. Wang became suspicious that the foreign company was not a legitimate software developer and that carrying out their requests would result in the software bypassing China's cyberspace oversight and entering the Chinese market illegally.
Despite his suspicions, Wang continued to provide the requested "technical support".
Chinese state security organs eventually discovered the abnormalities and launched an investigation. They found that the "developer" was actually an overseas espionage and intelligence agency that had planted Trojan horse malware onto the software programs. The malware could invade and manipulate computers and servers, allowing the agency to steal archives and data.
The agency used the infected software programs to conduct cyberattacks and theft against dozens of military institutes and high-tech enterprises, the ministry said. They have alerted the victims to the attacks to minimize potential losses.
Wang was given an administrative penalty according to the law, the ministry said, without giving details.
The ministry urged the public, especially IT workers, to be wary of such traps when offering technical services. They advised individuals to keep evidence and report suspicious activities to the authorities.