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State-actors likely behind Singapore cyber attack

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REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

SINGAPORE (AFP) –State-actors were likely behind Singapore’s biggest ever cyber attack to date, security experts say, citing the scale and sophistication of the hack which hit medical data of about a quarter of the population.

The city-state announced Friday that hackers had broken into a government database and stolen the health records of 1.5 million Singaporeans, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who was specifically targeted in the “unprecedented” attack.

Singapore’s health minister said the strike was “a deliberate, targeted, and well-planned cyber attack and not the work of casual hackers or criminal gangs”.

While officials refused to comment on the identity of the hackers citing “operational security”, experts told AFP that the complexity of the attack and its focus on high-profile targets like the prime minister pointed to the hand of a state-actor.

“A cyber espionage threat actor could leverage disclosure of sensitive health information… to coerce an individual in (a) position of interest to conduct espionage” on its behalf, said Eric Hoh, Asia-Pacific president of cybersecurity firm FireEye.

Mr Hoh told national broadcaster Channel NewsAsia that the nature of such attacks were that they were conducted by nation states using very advanced tools.

Analysts, however, would not be drawn into speculation on who might be behind the hack or why Singapore was targeted.

Jeff Middleton, chief executive of cybersecurity consultancy Lantium, said healthcare data is of particular interest to hackers because it can be used to blackmail people in positions of power.

Singapore officials have cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the attackers.

The hackers used a computer infected with malware to gain access to the database between June 27 and July 4 before administrators spotted “unusual activity”, according to authorities.

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