Live

Watch CBSN Live

77 Chinese nationals cuffed for Internet hacking in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Police in Kenya are consulting technical experts to determine if 77 Chinese nationals arrested with advanced communications equipment in several houses in an upscale Nairobi neighborhood were committing espionage, an official said Thursday.

The Chinese were arrested since the weekend with equipment that Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper said was capable of hacking into government servers.

"We have roped in experts to tell us if they were committing crimes of espionage," said Ndegwa Muhoro, the head of criminal investigations for Kenya's police. "These people seem to have been brought here specifically for a mission which we are investigating."

The arrests began on Sunday, when computer equipment in one of the upscale houses the Chinese nationals had rented near the U.S. Embassy and U.N. headquarters caught fire, killing one person.

Police said it appeared the group was manufacturing ATM cards, and that the suspects may have been involved in money laundering and Internet fraud. The case has caught the attention of the highest levels of Kenya's government as authorities investigate whether the group was also engaging in espionage.

The minister of foreign affairs and the minister of information communications and technology both were on hand Wednesday as police arrested 40 people. The Chinese ambassador was summoned to the foreign affairs ministry over the arrests.

The 37 suspects arrested Sunday were charged with operating an illegal radio station. Many of those arrested cannot speak English and some don't have identification such as a passport, police detective Nicholas Kisavi said.

Chinese government suspected in massive U.S. Postal Service hacking

A woman at China's embassy in Kenya told The Associated Press on Thursday to call back on Friday to speak with an embassy spokesman.

Fred Matiang'l, an official in Kenya's ministry of information, communications and technology, told the Daily Nation that China has promised to send investigators to Kenya to work on the case.

Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that four of its websites were recently hacked by an "Internet-sourced attack." Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) told CBS News that NOAA officials told him they believe China was behind the attack.