THE WEB-BASED SOFTWARE known as the Animal Health Emergency Reporting Diagnostic System, or USAHERDS, serves as a helpful digital tool for state governments to track and trace animal diseases through populations of livestock. Now it’s turned out to be a kind of infection vector of its own—in the hands of one of China’s most prolific groups of hackers.
On Tuesday, the cybersecurity incident-response firm Mandiant revealed a long-running hacking campaign that breached at least six US state governments over the past year. Mandiant says the campaign, which it believes to have been the work of the notorious Chinese cyberespionage group APT41—also known as Barium, or as a part of the larger Chinese hacker group Winnti—used a vulnerability in USAHERDS to penetrate at least two of those targets. It may have hit many more, given that 18 states run USAHERDS on web servers, and any of those servers could have been commandeered by the hackers.