DECEMBER 16, 2020
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As diplomats gathered at the African Union’s headquarters earlier this year to prepare for its annual leaders’ summit, employees of the international organization made a disturbing discovery.
Someone was stealing footage from their own security cameras.
Acting on a tip from Japanese cyber researchers, the African Union’s (AU) technology staffers discovered that a group of suspected Chinese hackers had rigged a cluster of servers in the basement of an administrative annex to quietly siphon surveillance videos from across the AU’s sprawling campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
The security breach was carried out by a Chinese hacking group nicknamed “Bronze President,” according to a five-page internal memo reviewed by Reuters. It said the affected cameras covered “AU offices, parking areas, corridors, and meeting rooms.”
“We cannot estimate the quantity and value of the data which have been stolen,” the memo continued, adding that while AU technicians had managed to interrupt the flow of data, the hackers could easily regain the upper hand.
“We are still weak to prevent another attack,” the memo said.
The alert, drafted in late January and circulated to senior officials, provides a glimpse of how world powers are jockeying for influence and visibility at the continent’s paramount pan-African organization. Some American and European officials have voiced concern as Beijing has stepped in to meet the AU’s needs – part of an Africa-wide shift that has seen China become the continent’s top creditor. Chinese workers built the AU’s showpiece new conference center in 2012 and Chinese technicians still help maintain the organization’s digital infrastructure.