Chinese cyber spies have targeted Australian rare minerals company Lynas in a fake information campaign that uses thousands of bots deployed across social media platforms to drum up protest activity at key processing plants.
In what cyber experts have dubbed an alarming new tactic, state-sponsored Chinese hackers have begun targeting Western companies with Russian-style information attacks in a bid to gain strategic dominance in the rare earths and critical minerals industries.
Researchers from Mandiant Intelligence, the cyber security firm that conducted the analysis, said the Chinese influence campaign, known as DRAGONBRIDGE, is now targeting US, Canadian and Australian rare earths mining companies.
“The private sector is now the victim of attacks by Chinese information operations which is growing increasingly aggressive,” John Hultquist, the Vice President of Mandiant Intelligence said.
” Information operations are typically a problem for civil society, governments, and platforms. They rarely target the private sector so directly and aggressively. This is a well-resourced campaign that’s grown significantly in size and scope compared to its recent activity in Ukraine.”
Among the Australian companies hit was ASX-listed Lynas Rare Earths Ltd, the world’s largest rare earths mining and processing company.
Lynas has an agreement with the US Defense Department to construct a rare earth processing facility in Texas.
The production, processing and control of rare earth minerals such as lithium has become a key strategic battleground between China and the West.
Rare earth minerals are increasingly in demand for things like for battery production, and yet remain in critically short supply. They are also located in countries either hostile to or in competition with the West, such as Russia or China.
Mr Hultquist said Beijing was using its vast cyber army to gain a commercial and strategic advantage in what had become a critical area of competition.
He said the risk to Western businesses were real and growing.
“An economic decoupling with China will only encourage more victimization of the private sector by Chinese actors,” Mr Hultquist said. “Unfortunately businesses will be on the front lines of a fight that may not be fair.”