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A hacker group linked to Chinese espionage is illicitly installing software at telecommunications companies to steal text messages from specific users and regarding specific topics, according to cybersecurity firm FireEye.

The big picture: While Chinese espionage is often linked to intellectual property theft, the targets in this case appear to be more linked to traditional espionage, including senior political and military figures and topics that could be of interest to Chinese policymakers.

The backdrop: The hacking group identified in this campaign, known as APT 41, is believed to have been active for nearly a decade.

  • They are interesting among Chinese spy groups because they appear to both spy for the government and commit cybercrime on the side to supplement their own incomes.

The big picture: FireEye has discovered "multiple" telecoms infected with the newly discovered malware, which they have dubbed Messagetap, Steven Stone, the firm's director of advanced practices, told Axios.

  • It assumes that many more will soon be discovered.
  • "We're at the front end of this discovery," he said, noting that the company decided publishing a speedy warning was more important than taking time to assess the campaign's scope. "I'd be really surprised if they just used this against one nation."

What's happening: Messagetap installs onto telecommunication company-specific hardware.

  • While APT 41 and other spy groups have hacked telecoms in the past to search for information on individuals, weeding out targets is usually done one at a time. This software automates the process, allowing spies to search for thousands of identifiers at the same time.
  • FireEye told Axios that the software they discovered was searching for text messages to or from at least 7,000 different phone numbers or individual phone identifiers, known as IMSI numbers.

Go deeper: China-linked group hacked 10 international cellphone providers

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

How the tech stock selloff is hurting average Americans

Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Investors holding the ultra-popular Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 index funds have been hard hit over the last two weeks as tech shares have been roiled by rising U.S. Treasury yields.

Why it matters: Even though the economy is growing and many U.S. stocks are performing well, most investors are seeing their wealth decline because major indexes no longer reflect the overall economy or even a broad swath of public companies — they reflect the performance of a few of the country's biggest companies.

2 hours ago - World

UN rights chief: At least 54 killed, 1,700 detained since Myanmar coup

A Feb. 7 protest in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images

Police and military officers in Myanmar have killed at least 54 people during anti-coup protests, while "arbitrarily" detaining over 1,700 people, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said Thursday.

Why it matters: Protesters have demonstrating across Myanmar for nearly a month, demanding the restoration of democracy after the country's military leaders overthrew its democratically elected government on Feb. 1.

3 hours ago - Health

The danger of a fourth wave

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Anomalous Arkansas case data from Feb. 28 was not included in the calculated change; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. may be on the verge of another surge in coronavirus cases, despite weeks of good news.

The big picture: Nationwide, progress against the virus has stalled. And some states are ditching their most important public safety measures even as their outbreaks are getting worse.

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