The supremely befuddling cyber attack that stumped an industry


In November, security researchers revealed a hacking operation with so many layers of labyrinthine convolution they dubbed it “Inception,” after the 2010 science-fiction film. Initially preying on Russian business executives—including the chief executive of a large Russian bank—the attack expanded to include targets across the globe in government, the United Nations, militaries, and in industries such as oil and gas. The schemers created tailor-made malware for mobile operating systems—Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS, even BlackBerry—and plotted a phishing campaign that included more than 60 mobile providers such as China Mobile and T-Mobile.

Blue Coat, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based network security firm that began investigating the attacks in late August, decided to release its findings in a detailed report in December rather than continue what it deemed a fruitless hunt to expose those responsible. “The damage is coming faster than the hints are coming to us,” says Hugh Thompson, chief security strategist…

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