Taiwan is home to one of the biggest semiconductor industries in the world. The sector is basically the core of the country’s economy. Even China is unable to match Taiwan’s many achievements when it comes to semiconductor manufacturing. Almost all major tech companies like Google, Apple, Samsung, etc., depend on Taiwanese firms for chipsets to power their devices. Driven by a desire to hurt Taiwan, China is attempting hacking into the semiconductor companies in the island nation.
The hacking attempt was exposed by CyCraft, a cybersecurity firm from Taiwan. According to their investigation, Chinese hackers were infiltrating the systems of Taiwanese semiconductor companies between 2018 and 2019. At least 7 chipmaking firms have had their data compromised in the past two years under the relentless attack of the hackers. Even the subsidiaries and competitors of these companies were targeted. The hackers had multiple goals — to steal critical documents, key source code, and the software development kits of chip-related projects.
The hacking campaign has been dubbed Operation Skeleton Key due to the fact that the attackers used a “skeleton key injector” technique to break into the networks. The hackers are speculated to have links to a Chinese state-backed hacking group called Winnti. CyCraft uncovered the hacking operation by hacking the hackers. The engineers at the firm intercepted a communication between the hackers’ control servers and the network of a victim company. They then gained access to the cloud server and found a document detailing the standard procedure used by the hacking group for carrying out a typical intrusion.
“These are large, sophisticated hacking groups that are often state-sponsored or sometimes criminal organizations. A couple of things in common are that they have a large team of very sophisticated hackers, a lot of financial resources, and they often operate much more like a business in terms of having specialized units that do specific kinds of activity… These semiconductor vendors have high uptime requirements. Hence, they cannot shut anything down. This means that they often operate with legacy software products. Hence, it leaves them vulnerable and open to special sets of attacks,” Chad Duffy, the Global Product Manager at CyCraft Technology Corp, said to India Today.
Taiwan recently accused the Chinese government of supporting the hacking groups that broke into 10 government agencies, compromising the email accounts of almost 6,000 government officials. According to Liu Chia-zung, the deputy director of the Taiwan Investigation Bureau’s Cyber Security Investigation Office, the hackers were aiming to acquire key government data and documents, some of which are believed to have been leaked. Four Taiwanese tech companies were also hacked as part of this campaign. These companies were providing information services to the Taiwanese government.
Attack on Taiwan
In the past couple of years, several Chinese officials have indicated that Beijing would launch an attack on Taiwan in a bid to bring the island nation under the control of the Chinese government. Taiwan has been boosting its military capabilities to counter such threats, securing weapons from the U.S., and training its personnel extensively.
The country’s armed forces recently released a video showing a range of military exercises that simulated the invasion of the island. Troops were seen using anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and anti-ship missiles. Despite Taiwan’s growing military capabilities, the reality is that it still pales in comparison to China when it comes to absolute strength. Two former U.S. officials have warned that China could seize Taiwan in as little as three days after launching an attack unless America decides to help the island nation by confronting the Chinese military.