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United States Charges Four Chinese Nationals For Cyber Espionage

The Chinese nationals were charged for a campaign to hack into the computer systems of American entities. 

WASHINGTON — The United States Department of Justice charged four Chinese nationals with a global computer intrusion campaign that aimed at targeting intellectual property and confidential business information of government agencies and universities.

A federal grand jury in San Diego, California, returned an indictment in May charging four nationals and residents of the People’s Republic of China with a campaign to hack into the computer systems of dozens of victim companies, universities, and government entities in the U.S. and abroad between 2011 and 2018, as per a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“This indictment alleges a worldwide hacking and economic espionage campaign led by the government of China,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman, Southern District of California.

“The defendants include foreign intelligence officials who orchestrated the alleged offenses, and the indictment demonstrates how China’s government made a deliberate choice to cheat and steal instead of innovating.”

“These offenses threaten our economy and national security, and this prosecution reflects the Department of Justice’s commitment and ability to hold individuals and nations accountable for stealing the ideas and intellectual achievements of our nation’s best and brightest people,” said Grossman.

The campaign was targeted at victims residing in the U.S., Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, and the U.K.

Targeted industries included, among others, aviation, defense, education, government, health care, biopharmaceutical, and maritime.

Stolen trade secrets and confidential business information included sensitive technologies used for submersibles and autonomous vehicles, specialty chemical formulas, proprietary genetic-sequencing technology, and data to support China’s efforts to secure contracts for state-owned enterprises within the targeted country.

The defendants are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation, alongside our federal and international partners, remains committed to imposing risk and consequences on these malicious cyber actors here in the U.S. and abroad,” said Deputy Director Paul M. Abbate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“We will not allow the Chinese government to continue to use these tactics to obtain unfair economic advantage for its companies and commercial sectors through criminal intrusion and theft. With these types of actions, the Chinese government continues to undercut its own claims of being a trusted and effective partner in the international community.”

The indictment, which was unsealed on July 16, said that much of the conspiracy’s theft was focused on information that was of significant economic benefit to China, including information that would allow the circumvention of lengthy and resource-intensive research and development processes.

“Chinese state-sponsored malicious cyber activity poses a major threat to the U.S. and global networks. To help mitigate the threat, patch systems, enhance monitoring, use protection capabilities, and read our joint advisory for more details,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation tweeted.

The indictment said that the three defendants were officers in the Hainan State Security Department, a provincial arm of China’s Ministry of State Security.

The two-count indictment said that Ding Xiaoyang, Cheng Qingmin, and Zhu Yunmin were Hainan State Security Department officers responsible for facilitating and managing computer hackers and linguists at Hainan Xiandun and other Ministry of State Security front firms to conduct hacking for the benefit of China and its state-owned and sponsored instrumentalists.

Wu Shurong, a computer hacker who created malware, hacked into computer systems operated by foreign governments, companies, and universities. He also supervised other Hainan Xiandun hackers, as per the U.S. Department of Justice.

At research institutes and universities, the hackers targeted infectious-disease research related to Ebola, MERS, HIV/AIDS, Marburg, and tularemia.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Abinaya Vijayaraghavan and Praveen Pramod Tewari)

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