The emails – one appearing to come from a Beijing-based foreign correspondent and the other from a Washington-based think tank – both contained an attachment with the same type of malware, according to independent cyber security expert Greg Walton who reviewed the files.
Malware attacks on foreign correspondents in China, Chinese dissidents or academics researching China tend to spike in the periods leading up to politically sensitive events for China. Previous spikes occurred ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule in 2009.
A government spokesman warned against jumping to conclusions about who was responsible.
“China manages the Internet according to law and has engaged in cooperation with the international community to promote Internet security. Internet security is a complicated issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said when asked about the emails.
“China is also a victim of Internet attacks. The source of these Internet attacks is very difficult to determine. Reaching conclusions without sufficient evidence or fair and thorough investigations, it’s just not serious.”
Both of the emails referred to the upcoming handover of power in the top ranks of the ruling Communist Party.