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Vietnam-linked hacking group targets Toyota

According to cybersecurity experts, a Vietnam-based hacking group is using complex cyber-attacks to spy on competitors to help Vietnam catch up to global competitors.

Within the last 2 years, the Vietnam-based group known as APT32, is believed to be tied with the government, and has increased its cyber-espionage, especially in southeast Asia, as stated by the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike Inc. The firm has said that the group’s actions included in intellectual property theft, which is the same activity for which Chinese hackers are known for.

Multiple experts stated that the automotive industry has been the main focus for APT32

According to a researcher familiar with the matter who requested to be anonymous, APT32 have created fake domains for Toyota Motor Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. to try and invade the automakers networks. Toyota discovered that it was targeted in Vietnam and Thailand and through a subsidiary – Toyota Tokyo Sales Holdings Inc – in Japan, according to spokesman Brian Lyons. A Toyota official, who requested to be anonymous, has confirmed that APT32 was involved.

Vietnam has also target American businesses that has relevancy to Vietnam’s economy, which includes the consumer products industry, as reported by experts. Andrew Grotto, a fellow at Stanford University who served as the senior director for cybersecurity policy on the National Security Council from late 2015 to mid-2017 said "What’s changed more recently, and this is consistent with broader trends in the cyberthreat actor landscape, is that they are getting better and better at it. They’re becoming more adept at developing their own tools, while at the same time tapping the global malware market for commercial tools.”

The Vietnam’s economic espionage activity that began in 2012, has seen a boost which spiked since the year 2018, as reported by CrowdStrike. It comes as the Trump administration is looking to restraint what many believe has been rampant intellectual property theft by China – former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander, who served under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, has called it the "greatest transfer of wealth in history.”

The Vietnamese hackers have emulated some of China’s cyber methods, albeit on a significantly smaller scale, the experts said.

According to Eric Rosenbach, co-director of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School and a former assistant secretary of defense for global security under Obama, Vietnamese government hackers have likely "seen how successful the Chinese have been at building cyber-espionage capabilities and cybersurveillance capabilities.” Which resulted in, they may be innovating something new or purchasing their own capabilities "either for economic interests or outright theft of intellectual property,” he said.

The Vietnamese foreign ministry and Vietnamese embassy in Washington did not provide a response to the requests for comment. A government spokeswoman previously said allegations that state-aligned hackers targeted foreign carmakers were "unfounded.”.

A representative for the US State Department refused to comment on allegations about economic espionage by Vietnam. - Bloomberg

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