Classified federal data pertaining to Saskatchewan, Canada’s potash industry was stolen by cyber thieves in January, the Ottawa Citizen, a Canadian newspaper, has reported.

Foreign hackers disguised themselves online as an aboriginal group in order to gain access to the Finance Department and Treasury Board networks, according to a security-intelligence source.

E-mails were sent to high-ranking department officials with links to a virus-infected Web page. The link opened a pathway into the government’s networks where spy malware was installed.

Infected PDF files were also sent that released more malicious code to download more government secrets.

The unnamed source said the target was information regarding the country’s potash industry.

Servers from China were reportedly used, but China has denied any involvement.

“Three months before the attacks, on Nov. 4, 2010, the federal government rejected a proposed takeover of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. by Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, which proposed to acquire Potash for $38.6 billion U.S. The government deemed the offer not to be in Canada's best interest,” the Ottawa Citizen reported.

“Around the same time, Chinese multinational conglomerate Sinochem was reportedly considering partnering with Russian interests in a bid for Potash Corp., the world's largest fertilizer producer.

“This month, North Atlantic Potash Inc., the Canadian subsidiary of Russian fertilizer company JSC Acron, sold eight of its potash exploration areas in Saskatchewan to Yancoal Canada Resources Co. Ltd. of fertilizer-hungry China for $110-million.”

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