The US Justice Department has accused two “Chinese hackers” of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of trade secrets, including defense data and research related to the development of a vaccine against coronavirus.
The indictment was rolled out on Tuesday, accusing two Chinese nationals, identified as Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, of waging a massive worldwide hacking campaign. The investigation into their alleged activities was triggered back in 2015, when they broke into a network belonging to the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear complex in the state of Washington.
The US Justice Department did not name any companies in particular who were allegedly targeted by the hackers, but US Attorney William Hyslop said that “there are hundreds and hundreds of victims in the United States and worldwide.” The pair have allegedly stolen terabytes of data from computers around the globe between 2014 and 2020.
Apart from seeking to snatch trade secrets, the hackers also allegedly targeted “non-governmental organizations, and individual dissidents, clergy, and democratic and human rights activists in the United States and abroad, including Hong Kong and China.”
The hacker duo allegedly acted not only in pursuit of personal gain, but worked as contractors for Beijing as well, receiving support from an unnamed agent with China’s Ministry of Security, the DoJ said. The hackers are believed to be in China, out of the reach of the US justice system.
The US officials did not miss an opportunity to call out other nations it has repeatedly accused of waging state-sponsored hacking campaigns, stating that Beijing has now joined their “shameful club” officially. In reality, however, the US has repeatedly accused Beijing of launching coordinated cyberattacks for years.
“China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cyber criminals in exchange for those criminals being ‘on call’ to work for the benefit of the state, here to feed the Chinese Communist party’s insatiable hunger for American and other non-Chinese companies’ hard-earned intellectual property, including COVID-19 research,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement.
While Western nations have been blaming elusive hackers for targeting coronavirus research for weeks already, it’s the first time such claims were accompanied by an indictment. The charges did not indicate that the alleged attempts to steal Covid-19 research were successful.
Beijing has repeatedly denied involvement in any state-sponsored efforts to hack into US, or anyone else’s, computer networks. China has not yet responded to the new accusations highlighted in the indictment.
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