Security researchers have found that Chinese hackers examined government and businesses websites in Alaska for potential vulnerabilities in the weeks surrounding a state trade delegation's trip to China.
Researchers for the security firm Recorded Future said they found that hackers working out of China’s Tsinghua University targeted energy and communications firms.
The action took place in the weeks before and after state officials went on a trade mission to China in May, led by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I).
The researchers said that websites for Alaskan service providers and government offices were scanned by the Chinese actors seeking possible vulnerabilities ahead of the trade trip. They added that flaws could allow them access to otherwise inaccessible and confidential systems.
A second scan of Alaskan government sites was conducted in June, shortly after the state's governor said he would raise concerns with federal officials about trade disputes between the U.S. and China.
“The spike in scanning activity at the conclusion of trade discussions on related topics indicates that the activity was likely an attempt to gain insight into the Alaskan perspective on the trip and strategic advantage in the post-visit negotiations,” the Recorded Future report states.
A Recorded Future researcher said it's unclear if the targeted systems were compromised.
The security firm said it provided the FBI with a copy of the report. The Hill has reached out to the FBI for comment.
A Tsinghua University official denied the allegations to Reuters, which first reported the research.
“This is baseless. I’ve never heard of this, so I have no way to give a response,” he said, declining to provide his name.
The report comes as the U.S. and China engage in an escalating trade war. China is Alaska's largest trading partner.
Updated at 9:52 a.m.