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Chinese hackers launched 'brute force' attacks in Finland just days before Trump-Putin meeting

Hackers from China launched attacks on internet-connected devices in Finland four days before President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki. (Getty Images)

Chinese hackers launched "brute force" attacks on internet-connected devices in Finland four days before President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki, according to F5 Labs cybersecurity report Thursday.

The hackers made up 34 percent of the cyber assaults against Finland which "skyrocketed" before Monday's meeting between the two world leaders, as expected, although the country is not typically a top target, the report said.

Overall, attacks jumped 2,800 percent, according to Defense One.

What did the hackers target?

China aimed its attacks at remote command-and-control features for internet of things, or IoT, devices such as smart devices and technologies.

Although it is unclear whether any of the hacks were successful, successful hacks of these devices may have allowed the Chinese to either see or hear into rooms with connected devices in order to ascertain what was said during the Trump-Putin summit, or to track the movements of principal actors in the summit.

The hackers’ primary target was SSH (or Secure Shell) Port 22. It's not a physical destination but a specific set of instructions for routing a message to the right destination when the message hits the server.

“SSH brute force attacks are commonly used to exploit systems and IoT devices online,” the report said.

IoT devices are attractive targets for hackers because network administrators rarely change passwords or login credentials from the factory settings.

"Nation-states, spies, mercenaries, and others don’t need to dress up as repairmen to plant bugs in rooms anymore; they can hack into a room that has vulnerable IoT devices,” according to the report.

Which nations were the top attackers in Finland?

China is usually the top attacking country on Finland, but the number of attacks rose significantly from 29 percent May 12 through July 12 to 34 percent between July 12-16.

“China, from a counterintelligence perspective, represents the broadest, most pervasive, most threatening challenge we face as a country,” FBI director Christopher Wray said Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Defense One reported.

Russian hackers made up 14 percent during the prior 60-day period, but that percentage dropped by half July 12-16.

And the U.S. percentage of attacks on Finland fell slightly from 14 percent to 12 percent during the same periods.

France, Italy, and Germany's attacks also increased against Finland during the Trump-Putin meetings, but they remained in the single-digit percentages.

What else?

In a recent report, the Office of the Counterintelligence Executive recently described China as “the world’s most active and persistent perpetrator of economic espionage,” according to Defense One.

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