MAC: Mines and Communities

Google Links Web Attacks to Vietnam Mine Dispute

Published by MAC on 2010-04-08
Source: New York Times, Associated Press (2010-03-31)

Vietnam's biggest proposed mining project has already triggered outrage from many of the country's citizens. See:

Last last month, the good folks at Google accused the regime of deliberately infecting "potentially thousands of computers" to prevent such criticisms circulating within the country and around the world.

Although the government has denied the charge, it is on record as "reserving the right" to mount cyber attacks on electronic communications that constitue a "threat to national security".



Google Links Web Attacks to Vietnam Mine Dispute

By Bettina Wassener

New York Times

31 March 2010

HONG KONG - Google, fresh off a dispute with China over censorship and intrusion from hackers, says it has identified cyber-attacks aimed at silencing critics of a controversial, Chinese-backed bauxite mining project in Vietnam.

In attacks it described as similar to but less sophisticated than those at the core of its spat with China, Google said malicious software was used to infect "potentially tens of thousands of computers," broadly targeting Vietnamese speaking computer users around the world.

Infected machines had been used to spy on their owners and to attack blogs containing messages of political dissent, wrote Neel Mehta of the company's security team in a post late Tuesday on Google's online security blog.

McAfee, the computer security firm, said in a separate blog posting that it believed "the perpetrators may have political motivations and may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam."

It added: "This incident underscores that not every attack is motivated by data theft or money. This is likely the latest example of hacktivism and politically motivated cyberattacks, which are on the rise."

Google said that while the malware itself was not especially sophisticated, "it has nonetheless been used for damaging purposes."

"Specifically, these attacks have tried to squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam, an important and emotionally charged issue in the country."

Bauxite is a key mineral in making aluminum and one of Vietnam's most valuable natural resources. Plans by the Vietnamese government to exploit bauxite in the Central Highlands region, in partnership with a Chinese state-run company, have generated much local criticism, including from a well-known war hero, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap.

General Giap and other opponents say the project will be ruinous to the environment, displace ethnic minority populations and threaten the south-east Asian country's national security with an influx of Chinese workers and economic leverage.

The role of China in the bauxite project also has stirred up anger in a nation that still fears its bigger neighbor: Vietnam was a tributary state of China for 1,000 years and was invaded by China in 1979, and the two countries continue to joust for sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Vietnam denies Google's hacking accusation

Associated Press (AP)

6 April 2006

HANOI, Vietnam - Vietnam has dismissed what it called "groundless" accusations from Google and McAfee that the communist country had apparently used malicious computer programs to hack Web sites and spy on political opponents.

Google Inc. said Vietnam had apparently used software known as "malware" to snoop on opponents of a controversial bauxite mine planned for Vietnam's Central Highlands. It said the cyberattacks had targeted "potentially tens of thousands of people."

The perpetrators "may have political motivations and may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," wrote George Kurtz, chief technology officer of online security firm McAfee.

"The comments are groundless," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said of the statements posted on Google and McAfee security blogs last week. Nga's statement appeared on the Foreign Ministry Web site late Monday.

The bauxite mining project involving a subsidiary of Chinese state-run aluminum company Chinalco has attracted strong opposition from people who fear it would cause major environmental problems and lead to Chinese workers flooding into the strategically sensitive region.

Bauxite is used to produce alumina, a key ingredient in aluminum.

Late last year, the government detained several bloggers who criticized the bauxite mine, and in December, a Web site called, which had drawn millions of visitors opposed to the mine, was hacked.

The malware apparently began circulating at about that time, according to the McAfee blog. It said someone hacked into a Web site run by the California-based Vietnamese Professionals Society and replaced a keyboard program that can be downloaded from that site with a malicious program.

The society's membership is made up mostly of overseas Vietnamese, many of whom fled the country after the communist forces won the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975.

The social networking Web site Facebook has been blocked in Vietnam since late last year. While the government has not directly acknowledged blocking Facebook, workers at two state-controlled Internet service providers said they had been ordered to block it.

At the time, Vietnam said it reserved the right to block Web sites that it considers a threat to national security.

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