African Union headquarters hack (2020)

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Note: Between 2012 and 2017, data was exfiltrated from the African Union’s headquarters – see African Union headquarters hack (2018). It is unclear whether the two incidents are linked.

Date First discovered on 17 January 2020.[1]
Suspected actor Bronze President, a hacking group allegedly based in China.[1]
Target African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.[1]
Target systems Security cameras.[2]
Method Data exfiltration from the IT system of the African Union’s headquarters. The hackers had rigged a cluster of servers to access and redirect surveillance footage from the African Union’s headquarters’ offices, parking areas, corridors, and meeting rooms.[1] However, the relevant footage did not contain any audio recordings.[3] The outgoing data was transmitted only during working hours and was hidden within the regular outgoing data stream.[1]
Purpose Unclear. According to Joshua Meservey, a senior policy analyst on Africa at the Heritage Foundation, the purpose might have been to add to China’s artificial intelligence capabilities by compiling video and other data and feeding it into machine learning systems.[1]
Result According to an internal memo circulated within the African Union, ‘a huge volume of traffic’ was exfiltrated.[1] The exact quantity and value of the stolen data is unknown.[1]
Aftermath China denied involvement,[4] alleging that the report of the cyber-incident was an attempt to harm Sino-African relations.[5]
Analysed in Scenario 04: A State’s failure to assist an international organization

Collected by: Darryl Chan

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Raphael Satter, ‘EXCLUSIVE Suspected Chinese hackers stole camera footage from African Union – memoReuters (16 December 2020).
  2. Center for Strategic International Studies, ‘Significant Cyber Incidents’ (undated, accessed on 19 July 2021).
  3. Salem Solomon, ‘Experts: Report of China Hacking African Union HQ Fits Larger PatternVOA News (5 January 2021).
  4. China, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin's Regular Press Conference’ (21 December 2020).
  5. So-called accusations of “China bugging the AU headquarters” are totally fake news: Chinese FMGlobal Times (21 December 2020).