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updated 3/14/2011 2:14:10 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:14:10

Cybercriminals believed to be operating in China hacked the computers of several Canadian government departments last month and may have accessed critical financial and weapons information.

Canada’s Treasury Board, Finance Department and Defence Research and Development Canada – a civilian agency of the military – were breached in early January by "spear-phishing" attacks – online scams that use specially crafted, seemingly personal e-mails to target specific victims, according to CBC News.

“Canada has access to secrets that are shared with other Western industrial countries, such as the United States, with regard to sophisticated weaponry. And the Chinese government would have strong interest in getting hold of technologies,” Charles Burton, a professor of Chinese politics at Brock University in Ontario, told CBC News.

It’s possible, Burton added, that the hackers were also going after sensitive data about Canada’s oil and gas resources.

After admitting that the hack forced the Finance Department and Treasury Board off the Internet, the Canadian government has released no further information about the scope of the security breaches.

Chinese officials have denied any involvement in the attacks.

Although the cyberattacks were made public this week, the targeted government bureaus have been on high alert since early February, when the Treasury Board shut down the Internet internally and told all employees to submit a list to the board secretary of all websites they need to visit, according to a Toronto Star report.

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