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Law Firm Suing China Hit By Cyber Attack

Targeted e-mail messages tried to trick recipients into clicking on malicious links.

Last week, Santa Barbara, Calif.-based CYBERsitter sued the People's Republic of China, the two Chinese software makers, and seven computer manufacturers for distributing Web filtering software known as Green Dam with allegedly stolen code.

This week, the law firm representing the company said that it had been targeted in a cyber attack from China.

In a phone interview, Elliot B. Gipson of Gipson Hoffman & Pancione described what amounts to a spear-phishing attack -- the same technique used against Google in China. "They were e-mails targeted at individuals in our law firm that were made to appears as if they were coming from other individuals at our law firm," he said. "They attempted to get the target to click on a link or attachment."

The firm's initial investigation has shown that at least some of the e-mail messages originated in China and that some of the malware payloads were on servers in China. The attacks have been reported to the FBI and members of the House Intelligence Committee.

Gipson said he believed that no one had clicked on the malicious links. While his firm doesn't have a formal cyber security education program, he said that employees had been warned not to open documents or click on links if they seemed suspicious.

Gipson said that despite the fact that the messages appeared to come from other members of the firm, little things like the phrasing of the messages tipped recipients off. "You work with people, you know what they sound like," he said.

Last June, when CYBERsitter, then operating under the name Solid Oak Software, publicly claimed that Green Dam contained its proprietary computer code, the company was hit by a similar targeted e-mail attack, also apparently from China.

Gipson Hoffman & Pancione has yet to receive any response from the Chinese government or the companies named in its lawsuit, which seeks $2.2 billion in lost sales for the 56 million copies of Green Dam distributed in China.

Andrew Bridges, an attorney with Winston & Strawn, said in an e-mailed statement that it might be hard to prove that the defendants' actions had resulted in lost sales. There's also the difficulty of suing a foreign government, which is typically immune to civil claims.

In October, CYBERsitter sued CBS Interactive's ZDNet China for distributing Green Dam and settled its claim two months later under confidential terms.

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