A Chinese hacking crew dubbed the Comment Group has been romping through corporate America’s computer networks for a few years now. The extent of the breaches wasn’t clear until Bloomberg published an in-depth report Sunday detailing in part how soft drink giant Coke was hacked in 2009 and didn’t tell.
The deep hacking of sensitive data from Coke’s systems destroyed a $2.4 billion acquisition deal with China Huiyuan Juice Group, which would have been the largest deal of its kind at the time:
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest soft-drink maker, has never publicly disclosed the loss of the Huiyuan information, despite its potential effect on the deal. It is just one in a global barrage of corporate computer attacks kept secret from shareholders, regulators, employees — and in some cases even from senior executives.
When hackers last year waged a large-scale attack on BG Group Plc (BG/), raiding troves of sensitive data, the British energy company never made it public. Luxembourg-based steel maker ArcelorMittal (MT) also kept mum when intruders targeted, among others, its executive overseeing China. As did Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK), after cyber attackers made off with files from its investment banking firm about natural gas leases that were up for sale.
Using sources with in-depth knowledge of the breaches and their effects on each company, Bloomberg goes on to report an alarming pattern of steadfast corporate denial in addition to threadbare security guarding remarkably sensitive, high-value data.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, naturally, has denied the hacks are state-sponsored and told Bloomberg allegations the Comment Group is a secret branch of the Chinese military are not supported by “concrete evidence and investigation.”
Cybersecurity expert James Lewis defined the bottom line behind the attacks and the best reason to believe they are part of an active, state-sponsored program when he told Bloomberg reporters, “This has been a part of their plan to catch up to the West […] You steal their technology, you steal their business secrets.”