Information security analysts from Symantec have revealed that cybercriminals have been targeting several major chemical companies in recent months, primarily seeking access to trade secrets instead of physical resources.
"The goal of the attackers appears to be to collect intellectual property such as design documents, formulas and manufacturing processes," the Symantec report explained. "In addition, the same attackers appear to have a lengthy operation history including attacks on other industries and organizations."
The malicious mechanisms underlying the attacks may have been in place as early as April, according to analysts, and operations continued through mid-September. Human rights organizations and the automotive industry were reportedly early targets before hackers shifted their focus to chemical manufacturers.
The attack methodology was based around traditional phishing strategies. Employees of targeted companies would be presented with an email and, if the attached document was opened, a malicious software program would infiltrate the company network through the user's machine.
The brazen attacks underscore the importance of protecting intellectual property, from both traditional and invisible threats. Several Fortune 100 companies, including firms dedicated to advanced research and design processes used in the defense industry, have fallen victim to these tactics, the full scope of which has yet to be determined.