At least 10 Taiwanese government agencies have been attacked by hacking groups linked to the Chinese government since 2018, according to the Taiwan Investigation Bureau.
Four Taiwanese tech companies that had been providing information services to the government were also among the targets of the attacks.
The hackers were able to access the email accounts of some 6,000 officials. The bureau added that citizens’ personal data had also been hit.
Four hacking groups – Blacktech, Taidoor, MustangPanda and APT40 – were behind the attacks, with Blacktech and Taidoor taking advantage of loopholes in the systems provided by the Taiwanese government’s information service providers.
Deputy director of the bureau’s Cyber Security Investigation Office, Liu Chia-zung, noted in a briefing that the attacks had targeted important data, although his office had not been able to identify what data had been stolen as the hackers had concealed their tracks.
Chinese hackers are increasingly using online platforms such as search engines to break into Taiwan’s systems, making them more difficult to trace.
Liu accused the hackers of attempting to influence Taiwan’s democratic society. “They were aiming to acquire important government documents and data,” he told reporters. “Some government data might have been leaked. This has posed a great threat.”
Liu noted that his office was investigating any collusion between the hackers and Taiwanese individuals or companies and advised that government agencies should increase scrutiny of their providers.
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Taiwan has found itself caught up in the growing conflict between the US and China. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and considers reuniting it with the mainland under one flag as a major geopolitical goal.
With the US taking moves to curtail the growing influence of Chinese tech giant Huawei, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract chip manufacturer, is under pressure to halt sales to Huawei.
China has been accused of targeting Taiwan with cyberattacks in the past. Chinese agencies were estimated to have attempted around 30 million cyberattacks against Taiwan per month in the runup to January’s presidential election.
State-run oil refiner CPC had its computer systems targeted on May 19, the day before the presidential inauguration.
Reports have also suggested that the number of serious incidents targeting sensitive government data and personal information has tripled from four in 2015 to 12 in 2017.
In 2019, the US and Taiwan collaborated to simulate a joint cyber-war exercise, with Taiwanese officials being subject to phishing emails and texts.