Vietnam-Aligned Agents Accused of Trying To Use Spyware Against Journalists, Lawmakers

Vietnam Accused of Trying To Use Spyware Against Journalists, Lawmakers

( – A recent Amnesty International investigation discovered that there may have been attempts by Vietnamese authorities to slip spyware on devices owned by US journalists and government officials via public X (formerly Twitter) posts.

The Vietnam-aligned hackers are accused of using X’s tagging feature to include several lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, in posts that linked to a harmful spyware program known online as Predator. The software, designed by digital intelligence firm Cytrox, targets Android, iOS, and Linux devices.

Republican representative Michael McCaul of Texas was reportedly among the targets. McCaul currently serves as the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s chairman. He was tagged in an X reply sent by the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign affairs. President Tsai Ing-wen, also of Taiwan, allegedly targeted Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.) via her own X account.

Two Taiwan-based CNN reporters and Jim Sciutto, the network’s chief security analyst, were also tagged in malicious posts. Most of the replies and posts originated from @Joseph_Gordon16, an account that can no longer be found.

So far, none of the targets appear to have actually installed the malicious spyware. The investigation is ongoing.

This isn’t the first time Predator has been used to target prominent individuals. In 2021, it was used in a slew of cyber attacks to target nearly 100 business leaders, politicians, and journalists across the globe. Cytrox has since been blacklisted by the US government. Intellexa, another surveillance firm, was also blacklisted after similar attacks.

Predator was also used during last year’s wiretapping scandal in Greece. During that time, the Greek government was reportedly using the spyware program to surveil Thansis Kouakis, an investigative journalist. The ensuing lawsuit led Panagiotis Kontoleon, the leader of the Greek intelligence service, to resign.

Researchers nicknamed the alliance between the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security and a Predator provider the “Intellexa alliance.” Amnesty International tracked shipments of technology to find the connection. They have not yet verified whether the attacks stemmed directly from the Vietnamese government or entities operating on its behalf.

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