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Summary:

Bad news for the French government as a weekend of Internet attacks culminates in the news that the country’s Ministry of Finance has been targeted by hackers looking to steal sensitive information — a reminder that the internet’s revolutionary power can often work against our interests.

Sarkozy by guillaume Paumier

Sarkozy by guillaume PaumierDuring the spate of populist uprisings across the Arab world, we’ve heard a lot about the impact that the Internet can have on politics — so important for communication that it was shut down, first by Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and more recently by Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. But it’s worth remembering that it’s not just dictators who find the Internet is a weak spot.

Take today’s example: It has been revealed that the French Ministry of Finance — based in the Parisian suburb division of Bercy — has been targeted by unidentified hackers over the past two months. The hackers have been trying to steal information about the G20 and the country’s economic situation. The affair, which was first reported by Paris Match magazine, saw at least 150 government computers infiltrated.

French experts have been trying to find out more about the strikes for some time — with particular responsibility falling upon ANSSI, the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems, and its chief, Patrick Pelloux.

“For two months, between 20 and 30 people from ANSSI have been working day and night on this case,” Pelloux told Paris Match. “Hackers have tried to attack other ministries. There may be things that we have not seen, but to my knowledge only Bercy has been affected.”

Where the attacks came from isn’t clear — initial information appears to indicate Chinese origins, but experts admit that evidence means very little right now — but it doesn’t seem to have been a particularly complex strike.

In essence, certain government workers received emails with attachments that contained a Trojan.

When they opened the attachment, their computers were infected, which allowed the hackers to take over their computers. It’s pretty crude by most accounts, and certainly a league or two down from Stuxnet, the power grid worm that targeted the Iranian nuclear program.

In fact, it looks like it’s been a bad few days for Internet security in general. South Korea reported a series of strikes against websites, and a string of denial of service attacks hit popular blogging platform WordPress (see disclosure).

It’s hard to attach meaning to so many possibly unrelated events. But at a time when we often focus on the Internet’s ability to help overturn the existing order — whether it’s revolutionizing businesses, organizing anti-government protests or the radical political transparency of Wikileaks — it’s a sobering reminder that the net’s power can cut both ways.

Photograph used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Flickr user Guillaume Paumier

Disclosure: Automattic, maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

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  1. wordpress is becoming equivalent to windows as in the blogging platforms popularization. it is bound to face these attempts. hope wordpress is on their toes for this.

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  2. Bercy is not a suburb of Paris. It is the name of an area within the borders of Paris. The ministry of finance is smack in the middle of Paris :) – address is 139 Rue de Bercy, 75012 Paris, France

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    1. Thanks, Reza. We fixed.

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  3. John Fakorede Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Important to note that the DDoS attacks targeted “WordPress.com” the service, meaning this had nothing to do with standalone WordPress installations.

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