USA says Chinese hackers targeted coronavirus vaccines

USA says Chinese hackers targeted coronavirus vaccines

It comes as President Donald Trump, his reelection prospects damaged by the coronavirus outbreak, has blamed China for the pandemic. The Chinese citizens are each charged with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, unauthorized access to a computer and aggravated identity theft.

Much of the information stolen by the hackers from businesses across the globe - comprising hundreds of victims, Justice Department officials said - was also in line with the areas the Chinese government has said they wanted to advance.

They also, the indictment alleges, helped the Ministry of State Security break into email accounts belonging to peaceful dissidents, human rights groups, religious figures, and a former Tiananmen Square protester.

One of the MSS officers also helped Li and other hackers to compromise servers by providing them with "0day malware" created to help them exploit a popular web browser.

While the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday issued a wanted bulletin for both men and identified them as fugitives, it's unlikely that Xiaoyu and Jiazhi will ever see the inside of a USA courtroom. But the indictment carries important symbolic and deterrence value for the Justice Department, which decided that publicly calling out the behavior was more worthwhile than waiting for the unlikely scenario in which the defendants would travel to the US and risk arrest.

Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, both Chinese nationals now living in China, are alleged in the indictment to be active leaders of a hacking campaign that has been ongoing for more than 10 years and has targeted hundreds of companies in more than 11 countries, including the U.S.

Chinese nationals and residents LI Xiaoyu (李啸宇 aka Oro0lxy), 34, and DONG Jiazhi (董家志), 33, were allegedly involved in a hacking campaign lasting more than ten years according to the Department of Justice's Office of Public Affairs.

"If it can occur there, we all must be aware it could occur anywhere", William Hyslop, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, said at a news conference Tuesday announcing indictments against the Chinese nationals, joined by officials from the U.S. Attorney General's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The indictment unsealed in Washington state said the two men - who reside in China - recently "researched vulnerabilities in the networks of biotech and other firms publicly known for work on Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and testing technology".

The charges are believed to be the first accusing foreign hackers of targeting scientific innovation related to the coronavirus, though USA and Western intelligence agencies have warned for months about those efforts.

The allegations come days after the United Kingdom, US and Canada said hackers affiliated with Russia's government have been targeting COVID-19 vaccine researchers.

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.

"We are concerned the hack, or even the attempted hack, can slow down research", he said. "We do worry to that extent that there could be a slowdown in the research efforts of that particular institution".

Earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray accused China of a "whole-of-state effort to become the world's only superpower by any means necessary".

"If it can occur there, we all must know that it can occur anywhere", U.S. Attorney William Hyslop said of his district.

"Cybercrimes directed by the Chinese government's intelligence services not only threaten the United States but also every other country that supports fair play, global norms, and the rule of law, and it also seriously undermines China's desire to become a respected leader in world affairs".

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