The altered appearance of a Vietnamese website attacked by Chinese hackers. PHOTO: QUANG THUAN
As tensions flare in the East Sea, a leading Vietnamese Internet security company reported Monday that 220 local websites were apparently attacked by Chinese hackers.
Six of the victims bore government domains (.gov) and were hacked between May 5 and 11, Ngo Tuan Anh, vice chairman in charge of Internet security at the Hanoi-based BKAV, said.
Many hackers left a signature that read “By: China Hacked" and either rendered the targeted sites inaccessible or altered their visual appearances, he said, adding that the attacks had yet to cause any serious damage because most of the hacked sites belonged to private persons or small businesses.
Speaking to Thanh Nien, Vu Quoc Khanh, director of the state-run Vietnam Computer Emergency Response Team, confirmed that a number of Vietnamese websites have been attacked recently.
He said the center is closely watching the situation and will release official information later.
Tensions between Hanoi and Beijing resurfaced last week when the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) moved a US$-1billion oil rig into position in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone off the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands. China deployed some 80 ships to guard the rig, leading to several tense encounters between Chinese and Vietnamese ships.
Vietnamese officials and scholars have condemned China’s brazen incursion into Vietnamese territory and thousands of Vietnamese citizens took to the streets in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the central city of Da Nang over the weekend to protest.
More to come?
Anh told Vietnam News Agency that the latest cyber attacks are “unavoidable” during standoffs between two countries, pointing to similar cases reported in Russia and Ukraine.
However, he warned webmasters at private organizations, government sites and businesses, to prepare for further attacks, saying that Vietnamese websites still have many weaknesses that can be exploited by hackers.
Nguyen Hong Phuc, an expert with HVA Online – one of Vietnam’s oldest Internet security forums, also believed that the attacks will likely increase, causing more damages.
Nearly 2,000 Vietnamese websites were hit in June 2011, after Chinese marine surveillance ships cut the cables of an exploratory vessel belonging to the Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) working in Vietnamese waters, he said.
The expert pointed out that the recent attacks were similar to those reported by other countries during flare ups with China.
He cited, as an example, the hacks launched on a series of Filipino websites in May of 2013 when island disputes between China and the Philippines became heated.
Nguyen Minh Duc, a security expert with FPT – one of Vietnam’s biggest telecommunication groups – also said the latest attacks look like a warning shot from Chinese hackers, as their attacks on Vietnamese Internet systems in recent years have proven that they're capable of inflicting much more damage.
Many government, business and bank websites are likely to be targeted by Chinese hackers in the end, Duc said.
“Without preparations, Vietnam’s Internet system runs the risk of being paralyzed when Chinese hackers launch bigger attacks,” Phuc said.
A paralysis of the Internet would prove “extremely devastating” as Vietnam relies a lot on e-commerce, telecommunication and e-government services, according to Phuc.
Vo Do Thang, director of Athena Center for Network Security Training, urged Vietnamese webmasters to review their security systems and back up their data.
However, some independent network security experts played down the significance of the latest attacks.
VietNamNet reported that most of the targeted sites were hosted on servers with similar IP addresses, meaning that the whole assault may have been a singular attack on several host servers.
Such attacks aren't uncommon in Vietnam, they said, warning that misleading information about the scale and significance of the attack will likely provoke Vietnamese hackers to take revenge, leading to all-out cyber warfare.
Meanwhile, many experts called for Vietnamese hackers to restrain themselves, warning that Vietnamese businesses and Internet users would suffer the most from such a confrontation.
Phuc warned that it would be a bad idea to launch a cyber-war now, given Vietnam’s lack of preparation and the other side’s obvious advantages (i.e. more hackers and better online infrastructure).
Banks still safe
Dao Minh Tuan, deputy director general of Vietcombank, told Thanh Nien that his bank has yet to record any attempted attacks by Chinese hackers and all transactions have been conducted normally.
However, as a precaution, the bank has tightened up its security network, he said.
Le Manh Hung, chief of the Central Bank of Vietnam’s Information Technology Department, also confirmed that Vietnamese banks have yet to report an attack by Chinese hackers.
In the meantime, the department is checking the state bank’s website for any defects and beefing up security.
The official also claimed that the bank's payment system, which acts as a middleman for payments between credit organizations, will be buttressed by many additional layers of security.
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