China’s National Computer Virus Emergency Response Center (CVERC) recently published a report attributing the hack to the Tailored Access Operations group (TAO) — an elite team of NSA hackers which first became publicly known via the Snowden Leaks back in 2013, helps the U.S. government break into networks all over the world for the purposes of intelligence gathering and data collection. [CVERC identified 41 TAO tools involved in the case.] One such tool, dubbed ‘Suctionchar,’ is said to have helped infiltrate the school’s network by stealing account credentials from remote management and file transfer applications to hijack logins on targeted servers. The report also mentions the exploitation of Bvp47, a backdoor in Linux that has been used in previous hacking missions by the Equation Group — another elite NSA hacking team. According to CVERC, traces of Suctionchar have been found in many other Chinese networks besides Northwestern’s, and the agency has accused the NSA of launching more than 10,000 cyberattacks on China over the past several years.
On Sunday, the allegations against the NSA were escalated to a diplomatic complaint. Yang Tao, the director-general of American affairs at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published a statement affirming the CVERC report and claiming that the NSA had “seriously violated the technical secrets of relevant Chinese institutions and seriously endangered the security of China’s critical infrastructure, institutions and personal information, and must be stopped immediately.”