Report: China Hacks Vietnamese Airports to Display South China Sea Propaganda

CORRECTS TYPE OF SCREENS - Passengers crowd at check-in counters at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam Friday, July 29, 2016. Screens displaying flight information at Vietnam's two major airports, Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat in Ho Chi Minh City, were hacked Friday to contain distorted information about the …
AP Photo

A massive hacker attack on Vietnam’s airports two weeks ago, which forced many airlines to temporarily revert to manual check-ins, has been blamed on a hacker group linked to the Chinese government.

As the Huffington Post describes it, hacker collective “1937CN” sounds like one of the deniable cut-out operations favored in cyber-warfare.

Compromised airport flight information systems were made to display “offensive messages and what has been described by state media as ‘distorted information’ about Vietnam and the Philippines’ claims to the South China Sea.”

The BBC reported that public-address speakers were mischievously forced to broadcast “anti-Vietnamese and Philippines slogans” on the day of the attack, July 29. The website of Vietnam’s national air carrier was also hacked.

The hacker attack was launched soon after China lost a crucial arbitration case against the Philippines in international court over territory also claimed by Vietnam.

In a possibly related incident, the BBC reports that Vietnamese customs officials apparently scribbled a “four-letter word” on the passport of a Chinese tourist who flew into Ho Chi Minh City a few days before the hacker attack, defacing the page of the passport that shows China’s idea of what South China Sea territorial boundaries should look like. Customs officials at other airports in Vietnam have reportedly confiscated newly-issued Chinese passports that include the South China Sea map.

Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre News reports that the economic and Internet units of the Ministry of Public Security are investigating the hack, with cooperation from the national airport authorities. According to this report, when the Vietnam Airlines website was hacked, the attackers didn’t just deposit some offensive anti-Vietnam messages on the main page — they also stole, and leaked, data on 411,000 of the airline’s “Lotusmiles” VIP rewards customers.

Tuoi Tre News mentions another recent cyber attack that may be linked to the airport caper, an assault on the Vietnam Football Federation that “defaced the website and installed malicious software to its system.”

In the wake of the airport attack, Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications asked public and private organizations nationwide to “take measures to ensure their information security,” under the guidance of the Vietnam Computer Emergency Response Team (VNCERT), as reported by VietnamNet.

According to VietnamNet, the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam tallied up 100 flights affected by the July 29 cyber attack, with dozens of them experiencing delays ranging from 15 minutes to over an hour.