WASHINTON, D.C./BEIJING – The United States charged two hackers and accused the Chinese government of allegedly “sponsoring criminal breaches” of international biotech firms developing treatments and vaccinations for the novel coronavirus.
Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi were both charged in an 11-count indictment that alleges the former engineering students “hacked computers” and “attempted to steal terabytes of data surrounding the coronavirus pandemic”, according to The Independent.
The indictment said the two hackers “researched vulnerabilities in the networks of biotech and other firms publicly known for work on COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and testing technology”. US authorities stated that the Chinese nationals allegedly participated in “a multiyear cyber-espionage campaign that stole weapons designs, drug information, software source code and more“.
The indictment did not name any specific companies, but it added that Li and Dong stole terabytes of data from computers around the world, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia and Belgium. The document alleges that Li and Dong supposedly acted as “contractors for China’s Ministry of Security”, or MSS, a comparable agency to the US Central Intelligence Agency.
The MSS, prosecutors noted, reportedly “supplied the hackers with information into critical software vulnerabilities to penetrate targets and collect intelligence”. According to the indictment, “among those targeted were Hong Kong protesters, the office of the Dalai Lama and a Chinese Christian non-profit”.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers stated in a virtual press conference that the hackers “occasionally worked on their own account”, including a case in which Li allegedly “tried to extort $15,000 in cryptocurrency from a victim”.
Demers added that China had allegedly joined the “shameful club of nations who provide a safe haven for cybercriminals” in exchange for their services stealing intellectual property. The indictment alleged that hackers operated from 2014 to 2020 and “most recently attempted to steal cancer research”. The accusation comes mere days after the UK made an identical accusation against Russia.