The United States has charged two hackers and accused the Chinese government of 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. 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 said the Chinese nationals participated in a multiyear cyber-espionage campaign that stole weapons designs, drug information, software source code and more. Contact details for the pair were not immediately available. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The indictment did not name any specific companies, but it said that Li and Dong stole terabytes of data from computers around the world, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia and Belgium.
The MSS, prosecutors said, supplied the hackers with information into critical software vulnerabilities to penetrate targets and collect intelligence. 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 said 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 said China had joined the “shameful club of nations who provide a safe haven for cybercriminals” in exchange for their services stealing intellectual property.