Google Inc. said Vietnam had apparently used software known as "malware" to snoop on opponents of a controversial bauxite mine planned for Vietnam's Central Highlands. It said the cyberattacks had targeted "potentially tens of thousands of people."
The perpetrators "may have political motivations and may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," wrote George Kurtz, chief technology officer of online security firm McAfee.
"The comments are groundless," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said of the statements posted on Google and McAfee security blogs last week. Nga's statement appeared on the Foreign Ministry Web site late Monday.
The bauxite mining project involving a subsidiary of Chinese state-run aluminum company Chinalco has attracted strong opposition from people who fear it would cause major environmental problems and lead to Chinese workers flooding into the strategically sensitive region.
Bauxite is used to produce alumina, a key ingredient in aluminum.
Late last year, the government detained several bloggers who criticized the bauxite mine, and in December, a Web site called bauxitevietnam.info, which had drawn millions of visitors opposed to the mine, was hacked. The malware apparently began circulating at about that time, according to the McAfee blog. It said someone hacked into a Web site run by the California-based Vietnamese Professionals Society and replaced a keyboard program that can be downloaded from that site with a malicious program.
The society's membership is made up mostly of overseas Vietnamese, many of whom fled the country after the communist forces won the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975.
The social networking Web site Facebook has been blocked in Vietnam since late last year. While the government has not directly acknowledged blocking Facebook, workers at two state-controlled Internet service providers said they had been ordered to block it.
At the time, Vietnam said it reserved the right to block Web sites that it considers a threat to national security.