Chinese spies accused of worldwide hacking campaign targeting coronavirus research

Chinese spies accused of worldwide hacking campaign targeting coronavirus research

Eric Tucker
The Associated Press

Posted July 21, 2020 12:08 pm


Updated July 21, 2020 12:09 pm

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The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday accused two Chinese hackers of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of trade secrets from companies across the world and more recently targeting firms developing a vaccine for the coronavirus.

The indictment, which officials expected to discuss at a news conference, says the hackers in recent months had researched vulnerabilities in the computer networks of companies publicly known for their work in developing vaccines and treatments.

READ MORE: Russian hackers target Canada, U.S., and U.K.’s COVID-19 vaccine research, intelligence agency says

The indictment includes charges of trade secret theft and wire fraud conspiracy against the hackers, who federal prosecutors say stole information not only for themselves but also that they knew would be of interest and value to the Chinese government.

The charges are believed to be the first accusing foreign hackers of targeting scientific innovation related to the coronavirus, though U.S. and Western intelligence agencies have warned for months about those efforts. Last week, for instance, authorities in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom accused a hacking group with links to Russian intelligence with trying to target research on the disease.

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Russian hackers accused of targeting global COVID-19 vaccine research

Russian hackers accused of targeting global COVID-19 vaccine research

“China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cyber criminals in exchange for those criminals being `on call’ to work for the benefit of the state, here to feed the Chinese Communist party’s insatiable hunger for American and other non-Chinese companies’ hard-earned intellectual property, including COVID-19 research,” Assistant Attorney John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said in a statement.

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There was no immediate indication from the indictment that the hackers had successfully obtained any COVID-19 research, despite efforts to snoop on the companies.

Read more:
Canadian COVID-19 research faces ‘elevated’ foreign threat of hacking, spy agencies warn

But prosecutors say the defendants in January conducted reconnaissance on the computer network of a Massachusetts biotech firm known to be researching a potential vaccine and searched for vulnerabilities on the network of a Maryland firm less than a week after it said it was conducting similar scientific work.

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The case was filed earlier this month in federal court in Washington state and was unsealed on Tuesday.

An email sent by The Associated Press to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., seeking comment on the hacking charges was not immediately returned.

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© 2020 The Canadian Press


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