California [US], July 19 (ANI): The US Department of Justice (DoJ) on Monday (local time) charged four Chinese nationals with a global computer intrusion campaign targeting intellectual property and confidential business information, including infectious disease research.
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 United States and abroad between 2011 and 2018, said a US DoJ statement.
"This indictment alleges a worldwide hacking and economic espionage campaign led by the government of China," said Acting US Attorney Randy Grossman for the 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."
The indictment, which was unsealed on Friday, alleged that much of the conspiracy's theft was focused on information that was of significant economic benefit to China's companies and commercial sectors, including information that would allow the circumvention of lengthy and resource-intensive research and development processes.
The indictment alleges three defendants were officers in the Hainan State Security Department (HSSD), a provincial arm of China's Ministry of State Security (MSS).
The two-count indictment alleged that Ding Xiaoyang, Cheng Qingmin, and Zhu Yunmin, were HSSD officers responsible for coordinating, facilitating and managing computer hackers and linguists at Hainan Xiandun and other MSS front companies to conduct hacking for the benefit of China and its state-owned and sponsored instrumentalities.
Meanwhile, Wu Shurong, a computer hacker who created malware, hacked into computer systems operated by foreign governments, companies and universities, and supervised other Hainan Xiandun hackers, said the DoJ statement.
The conspiracy's hacking campaign targeted victims in the United States, Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Targeted industries included, among others, aviation, defense, education, government, health care, biopharmaceutical and maritime. Stolen trade secrets and confidential business information included, among other things, sensitive technologies used for submersibles and autonomous vehicles, specialty chemical formulas, commercial aircraft servicing, proprietary genetic-sequencing technology and data, and foreign information to support China's efforts to secure contracts for state-owned enterprises within the targeted country (e.g., large-scale high-speed railway development projects).
At research institutes and universities, the conspiracy targeted infectious-disease research related to Ebola, MERS, HIV/AIDS, Marburg and tularemia, said DoJ.
The charged MSS officers coordinated with staff and professors at various universities in Hainan and elsewhere in China to further the conspiracy's goals. Not only did such universities assist the MSS in identifying and recruiting hackers and linguists to penetrate and steal from the computer networks of targeted entities, including peers at many foreign universities, but personnel at one identified Hainan-based university also helped support and manage Hainan Xiandun as a front company, including through payroll, benefits and a mailing address.
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. (ANI)