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Tim Culpan

Beware the Chinese Ransomware Attack With No Ransom

A different hacking tactic could be a way to distract victims from the perpetrator’s true motive.

Tsai Ing-wen during her re-election campaign.

Tsai Ing-wen during her re-election campaign.

Photographer: Betsy Joles/Bloomberg

A breach by Chinese hackers of almost a dozen targets in Taiwan looked, on the surface, like just another ransomware attack: infiltrate a network, encrypt a ton of files, lock the owners out of their own systems, and wait to be paid. But this one was different for what it didn’t contain, and portends a type of threat that could stymie attempts by corporate and government leaders to make their computer systems more secure. 

Semiconductor maker Powertech Technology Inc., communications provider Chunghwa Telecom Co., plastics conglomerate Formosa Petrochemical Corp. and state-run petroleum company CPC Corp. were among those hit in May 2020 by the Chinese Winnti group. Seven members were indicted by the U.S.  last year for a series of attacks that allegedly affected more than 100 high-tech and online gaming companies globally.