In spy thrillers, the good and bad guys are after nuclear secrets or classified invasion plans. In real life, it sometimes all comes down to fertilizer.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported that the massive Chinese-based hacker attack on the Treasury Board of Canada and other federal government agencies late in 2010 was aimed at uncovering information about the takeover bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan.

The broadcaster cited evidence gathered by cybercrime expert Daniel Tobok, who discovered that the spear phishing attack also targeted a number of large law firms who did business connected to BHP Billiton's unsuccessful bid for Potash Corp. – a deal valued at $38 billion.

Tobok told CBC that the hackers, who used servers in China, sent each target organization a series of emails purporting to be from senior government officials or firms involved in the Potash Corp. deal.

One of the world's largest consumers of potash-based fertilizer, China opposed the takeover bid, which would have put the Canadian company into the hands of BHP, an Australian conglomerate.