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FBI Says Hacking Attack on IMF Started in China

Joseph Menn in San Francisco

US authorities investigating a hacking attack on the International Monetary Fund have concluded it originated in China and was probably connected to the government.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters building is seen in Washington, DC.
Yuri Gripas | Getty Images

The FBI, leading the inquiry, bases its belief on an analysis of the programming code used by the attack, disclosed in June, internet addresses that the ‘infected’ machines connected to and other evidence, said a person familiar with the matter.

He did not give further details about the findings, which were first reported by Bloomberg News. China emerged as a suspect within days of the discovery, two people familiar with the case had previously told the Financial Times.

An IMF spokesman declined to comment. Chinese government representatives could not immediately be reached.

The suspicion puts pressure on new IMF chief Christine Lagarde, who this month named Zhu Min, former deputy governor of the Chinese central bank, to the institution’s top management.

Former IMF officials said that appointment reflected recognition of China’s growing power in the global economy and served also as a reward for China’s support of the European Ms Lagarde to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn after he resigned in May amid sex charges.

Even if the FBI’s conclusion were to be borne out, experience suggests that the case would be more likely to be addressed by diplomatic channels than by a court of law.

FBI and US intelligence officials have blamed China for conducting an enormously successful campaign of cyber-espionage against officials and private industry, especially defence contractors and technology firms. Criminal charges have been very rare.

In the best-known example, Google partly withdrew from mainland China early last year after saying hackers had breached its systems. Google notified many other companies that it had detected similar attacks on them.

Non-government bodies in China and the US have held many meetings, with officials from both countries as observers, to discuss espionage and other issues of cyber conflict.

The IMF breach came to light in June after an internal memo warned employees a desktop computer had been compromised and used to further penetrate the IMF network.

One official involved said the attackers had used a tailored e-mail that installed a program giving back-door access to IMF systems. The breach was grave enough that the global agency severed its electronic link to the World Bank computer as a precaution.

The IMF has private information that could be invaluable for sovereign funds and other investors in the financial markets, including details of rescue plans for crisis-stricken west European economies. While China would already be privy to much of the IMF’s data, it also could benefit from internal discussions about the top leadership.

Just this week, an IMF report declared that a substantial appreciation of the Chinese renminbi, a policy goal of US officials, would have little effect on trade and growth in the

Additional reporting by Alan Beattie in Washington