Home Predator on the prowl: how Vietnam tried to hack U.S. diplomats and journalists

Predator on the prowl: how Vietnam tried to hack U.S. diplomats and journalists

The Vietnamese government has been implicated in a spyware campaign this year that attempted to plant surveillance software on the phones of U.S. officials.

According to an Oct. 9 The Washington Post report, Vietnamese state agents tried to infect the phones of members of Congress, American think tank experts and journalists with a powerful spyware program called Predator. Those conclusions are largely based on forensic examination of suspicious links posted on Twitter and documents reviewed by a consortium of news outlets.

Among those targeted were House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Asia experts at Washington think tanks, and CNN journalists, including chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

The spyware attempts occurred as the U.S. and Vietnam were negotiating an agreement to enhance cooperation in countering China’s regional influence. President Biden signed the cooperation deal during a visit to Hanoi in September.

One month ago (the cooperation deal).

According to the Post, the hackers used X to post links that would install Predator (spyware)

According to the Post, the hackers used X to post links that would install Predator, a surveillance tool called spyware. The links were embedded in replies to targets’ X posts or tweets that tagged them. The report says the malicious X account was eventually deleted.

Researchers determined the links led to websites set up to deliver the Predator spyware, which can activate microphones and cameras and access files on infected Apple and Android devices. However, none of the attempts appear to have succeeded in actually compromising the targets’ phones.

The Post reports that the spyware’s creators, Israeli firms Cytrox and Intellexa, were added to a U.S. trade blacklist in July over such hacking tools’ potential misuse. The Vietnamese government declined to comment on the allegations.

U.S. officials told the Post the spying attempts were very concerning and justified restrictions on the commercial spyware industry. Members of Congress said the campaign highlights the need for stronger regulation of surveillance technology.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by mikoto.raw Photographer; Pexels; Thank you!

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Radek Zielinski
Tech Journalist

Radek Zielinski is an experienced technology and financial journalist with a passion for cybersecurity and futurology.

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