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MANILA (Reuters) - Hackers linked with the Vietnamese government are likely targeting Philippine government agencies to gather intelligence related to the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, cybersecurity company FireEye said on Thursday.
That same group, which FireEye called APT32, was also responsible for attacking a Philippine consumer products corporation and a Philippine technology infrastructure firm in 2016, the company said in a media briefing.
Bryce Boland, chief technology officer for Asia Pacific, said the company had observed that APT32 was targeting not just multinational companies and organisations doing business in Vietnam but Philippine government agencies as well.
"This is presumably in order to gain access to information about military preparation and understanding how the organisations within the government operate in order to be better prepared in case of potentially military conflict," Boland said.
"There are overlapping claims between Vietnam and the Philippines over some islands in the South China Sea and it is quite likely that intelligence gathering is starting around that," Boland said.
Vietnam has strongly rejected allegations it supports hacking.
"The government of Vietnam does not allow any form of cyber attacks against organisations or individuals," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said earlier this month in response to similar accusations.
"All cyber attacks or threats to cyber security must be condemned and severely punished in accordance with regulations and laws."
A spokesman for the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department did not immediately respond to a telephone call or text message requesting comment.
The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei contest all or parts of the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
APT stands for advanced persistent threat, a term usually reserved for state-sponsored hacker groups.
"We believe all of the activities of APT32 are aligned to the interests of the Vietnamese government," Boland said.
Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen in HANOI; Editing by Nick Macfie