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US Accuses Chinese Officials of Running Data Theft Ring

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The Justice Dept. accuses Chinese security officials of a hacking attack seeking data on viruses like Ebola.

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Justice Department Indicts Chinese Officials for Cyberattacks

The Justice department accused four Chinese nationals, including three state security officials, of hacking government and private computer systems around the world to steal sensitive information.

We are here today to announce the indictment of four Chinese nationals for coordinating a multi-year conspiracy to hack into computer systems belonging to private companies, universities and government entities in the United States and around the world in order to steal sensitive research and technology. There have been many reports about cybercrime recently, but this prosecution is unique. This case is about a cyberhacking and economic espionage campaign led by the government of China. The indictment alleges that three of the four defendants were intelligence officers with China’s Ministry of State Security, or M.S.S. They implemented the alleged cyberattacks through front companies in order to conceal the government’s role in the illicit scheme. These defendants coordinated with universities in China to achieve the goals of the conspiracy. For example, they worked with professors to organize hacking competitions with cash prizes. The goal was simple: to find China’s best hackers and recruit them to steal intellectual property for the benefit of China and its state-controlled companies. China’s foreign intelligence officials are trained to avoid detection, and they did everything they could to hide their crimes. But the team of agents and prosecutors in this case found them. And in doing so, have shown China’s government and the world the unwavering commitment of the Department of Justice to protect the United States against all threats, foreign and domestic.

The Justice department accused four Chinese nationals, including three state security officials, of hacking government and private computer systems around the world to steal sensitive information.CreditCredit…Gregory Bull/Associated Press

July 19, 2021, 10:02 a.m. ET

The Justice Department on Monday accused three Chinese state security officials of coordinating a vast hacking campaign to steal sensitive and secret information from government entities, universities and corporations around the world, including research related to autonomous vehicles, genetic-sequencing technology and infectious diseases like the Ebola virus.

The announcement came as the White House formally accused the Chinese government of breaching Microsoft email systems and paying criminal groups to extort companies for millions of dollars in ransomware attacks, showing that the Biden administration was determined to aggressively confront Beijing.

In an indictment that had been sealed since May, the Justice Department accused officers in a provincial foreign intelligence bureau, the Hainan Province Ministry of State Security, of creating a sham information security company that they used as a front for a sprawling hacking operation.

The officers, Ding Xiaoyang, Cheng Qingmin and Zhu Yunmin, used the front company to manage a group of computer hackers and linguists who hacked into computer systems around the world to benefit China and hide Beijing’s role in the thefts, according to the indictment. One of the hackers, Wu Shurong, was accused of creating malware that was used to break into foreign computer systems.

From 2011 to 2018, the Chinese intelligence officers targeted companies, universities and government agencies in the United States, Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, according to court documents. The allegations underscore China’s willingness to flagrantly disregard a 2015 agreement with the United States to refrain from computer-enabled theft of information for commercial gain.

“The breadth and duration of China’s hacking campaigns, including these efforts targeting a dozen countries across sectors ranging from health care and biomedical research to aviation and defense, remind us that no country or industry is safe,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in a statement.

Staff and professors at Chinese universities aided the operation by identifying and recruiting hackers and linguists, according to the indictment. Personnel at one university ran the company’s payroll and benefits.

The intelligence officers are accused of targeting aviation, defense, education, government, health care, biopharmaceutical and maritime industries.

Some of the thefts were identified in charges brought during the Trump administration against hackers associated with China’s main intelligence service.

While it is unlikely that all of the defendants will be tried in a U.S. court, national security officials have long said that it is important to publicly charge Chinese officials with wrongdoing as part of a broader effort to hold Beijing to account.

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