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WASHINGTON, July 22 -- The United States has charged two Chinese hackers engaged in computer intrusion campaigns, including in novel coronavirus-related research, reported Sputnik news agency, quoting Assistant US Attorney General for National Security John Demers in a press conference on Tuesday.
“The US Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Washington and the National Security Division have charged two Chinese hackers working with the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), including the Guangdong State Security Department, GSSD, of the MSS with the sweeper global computer intrusion campaign,” Demers said. “The campaign targeted intellectual property and confidential business information held by the private sector including coronavirus-related treatment, testing and vaccines.”
Demers said the hackers also targeted the online accounts of non-governmental organisations and individual dissidents, clergy and democratic and human rights activists in the United States, Hong Kong and China.
While the hackers conducted activity on behalf of the MSS, some of the defendants’ alleged activities were conducted for their personal profit, he said.
Demers pointed out that the indictment alleges the two hackers targeted companies in at least ten countries throughout the world.
"China’s anti-competitive behavior and flagrant disregard for their promises not to engage in cyber-enabled intellectual property theft is not just a domestic issue, it is a global issue," Demers said. "The indictment alleges activity against companies in at least ten countries around the world."
The targeted nations include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
The Justice Department issued a press release on Tuesday saying the two individuals – Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi – targeted high tech manufacturing and medical devices companies; civil and industrial engineering companies; solar energy firms; pharmaceuticals; and defense contractors, among others.
“More recently, the defendants probed for vulnerabilities in computer networks of companies developing COVID-19 vaccines, testing technology, and treatments,” the release said.
The Justice Department alleged the two Chinese nationals conspired to steal trade secrets from at least eight known victims, which consisted of technology designs, manufacturing processes, test mechanisms and results, source code and pharmaceutical chemical structures.
“Such information would give competitors with a market edge by providing insight into proprietary business plans and savings on research and development costs in creating competing products,” the release said.
The defendants are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of unauthorised access of a computer, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and seven counts of aggravated identity theft, which each carries a mandatory sentence of two non-consecutive years in prison, the release added.