Cyberspies Infiltrate the Swiss Foreign Ministry

Data-stealing professional malware detected on the network

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) has been the target of cyber-espionage. According to an official press release, government IT specialists have located a piece of malware on the network that was specifically designed to steal information and remain undetected.

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs is Switzerland's governmental body in charge with maintaining the country's foreign relations. As a depository state of the Geneva Conventions and home to many international organizations, Switzerland plays an important and active role on the international politics scene.

"On 22 October 2009 IT specialists from the FDFA in conjunction with Microsoft discovered that the FDFA had been the target of a professional virus attack. The hackers, whose identities are as yet unknown, made use of special software during the attack to gain access to the Department’s IT infrastructure and acquire information," an official announcement reads.

It is also noted that the spying software was specifically designed to generate as little network activity and traffic as possible in order to hide its presence. Investigations are still underway to determine if the IT systems have been damaged in any way.

Following the discovery, as a precautionary measure, the FDFA computer network has been disconnected from the Internet. Specialized personnel from the Federal Office of Information Technology, Systems and Telecommunication (FOITT) and from the Reporting and Analysis Centre for Information Assurance (MELANI) have been called in to resolve the problem and Internet service is expected to be restored in a matter of days.

According to Heise Media, this is not the first time when the Swiss foreign ministry was the target of a cyber-attack. At the end of 2007, employees from FDFA and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs received over five hundred malicious emails containing an information-stealing trojan that had very low AV detection rates.

Cyber-espionage has become a common practice in recent years. In April, we reported that hackers had penetrated the Pentagon computer network and managed to steal several terabytes of sensitive data. In November 2008, it was revealed that unknown attackers bugged the White House network in a similar fashion and intercepted email communications between officials.

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