MANILA (Reuters) – Hackers linked with Vietnam’s government are likely targeting Philippine state agencies to gather intelligence related to the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, cybersecurity company FireEye <FEYE.O> said on Thursday.
Vietnam’s government was not immediately available for comment – though it has regularly dismissed similar allegations in the past. The Philippines’ foreign ministry told Reuters it would look into the report.
FireEye said the hackers, called APT32, had attacked a Philippine consumer products corporation and a Philippine technology infrastructure firm in 2016, alongside other companies, some doing business in Vietnam.
The attackers were also targeting Philippine government agencies, FireEye’s chief technology officer for Asia Pacific, Bryce Boland, added in a media briefing.
“This is presumably in order to gain access to information about military preparation and understanding how the organizations within the government operate in order to be better prepared in case of potentially military conflict,” Boland said.
“There are overlapping claims between Vietnam and the Philippines over some islands in the South China Sea and it is quite likely that intelligence gathering is starting around that,” Boland said.
APT stands for advanced persistent threat, a term often used to describe state-sponsored hacker groups.
“We believe all of the activities of APT32 are aligned to the interests of the Vietnamese government,” Boland said.
The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei contest all or parts of the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry said this month the government of did not allow any form of cyber attacks against organizations or individuals.
“All cyber attacks or threats to cyber security must be condemned and severely punished in accordance with regulations and laws,” spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said, responding to similar accusations.
Philippines foreign ministry spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said on Thursday the government took hacking allegations very seriously.
“Any credible information received will be investigated and addressed as necessary,” he said in a text message.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen in HANOI; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Heavens)