Taiwan security officials link cyberattacks to Tsai inauguration

05/06/2020 04:55 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, May 6 (CNA) Security officials suspect that recent cyberattacks on petrochemical companies in Taiwan could be linked to President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) second-term inauguration on May 20, but did not offer specifics Wednesday to support their claim.

Over the past three days, Taiwan's state-owned oil refiner CPC Corp. Taiwan (中油) and privately-owned Formosa Petrochemical Corp. (台塑化) were hit by malware attacks.

The attacks have been traced to IP addresses in Russia and China, according to an initial investigation by the National Security Bureau.

The attacks forced CPC to temporarily halt the operations of its electronic payments system Monday, according to a spokesman from the company.

As for Formosa Petrochemical, it reported that an employee's computer was infected with a virus, but no data was lost and company operations were not affected.

The Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) is currently investigating the two cases and is trying to determine whether they are related.

An official involved in national security, who asked not to be named because the individual is not authorized to speak to the media, suggested Wednesday that these cyberattacks could be "trial runs" before the start of Tsai's second term on May 20.

Tsao Chin-ping (曹進平), deputy chief of the general staff for communication, electronics and information at the Ministry of National Defense (MND), said the same day that it was a "reasonable conclusion" that there could be more cyberattacks before May 20.

Neither the anonymous official nor Tsao elaborated, however, on the reasoning behind their suspicions.

Tsao said the MND was aware of the attacks, made through portable storage devices and social media, but indicated that the ministry had only limited information on them because it is not involved in investigating cybercrimes.

Asked about the cyberattacks, Jason Hsieh (謝昀澤), cybersecurity specialist at KPMG Taiwan, did not link them to the May 20 inauguration.

He warned, however, that cyberattacks on major infrastructure and public utilities usually have deeper motives, such as paralyzing society, rather than simply trying to steal trade secrets or money.

Hsieh said operators of vital facilities could face more serious challenges in the future as conventional industrial control systems increasingly go online and become more susceptible to hacks and attacks.

(By Matt Yu, Hsiao Po-wen, Wen Kui-hsiang, Wu Chia-jung, and Emerson Lim)

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