Computer security (illustrative).
Computer security (illustrative). Photo by GPO
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Hackers attempted to take control of senior German government officials' computers last year and the source has been traced to China, the news magazine Der Spiegel said Sunday.

Emails infected with a virus were sent to officials in several ministries and to banks in September, just before G-20 nations including China met for a summit in St Petersburg, Russia.

One of the emails pretended to contain an exchange of information among economic advisers known as "sherpas," the officials below the rank of minister who conduct most of the negotiations in advance of summits.

Spiegel said a German government spokeswoman had confirmed that there was an attempt "to compromise chancellery information security by the method described here," but said the attack was repelled.

The magazine said the malware in the email was programmed to send data to China, and the German counter-intelligence agencies assessed it as the work of intelligence operatives.