U.S. Charges China Intelligence Officers Over Hacking (#GotBitcoin?)
U.S. officials also accused China of violating a 2015 pact under which both nations vowed to not engage in state-sponsored hacking for economic gain. U.S. Charges China Intelligence Officers Over Hacking
The U.S. Justice Department unsealed criminal charges Thursday against two Chinese nationals allegedly tied to a campaign to steal sensitive information from technology-service providers around the world and several U.S. government agencies, including the Navy.
U.S. officials also accused China of violating a 2015 bilateral pact under which both countries vowed to not engage in state-sponsored hacking for economic gain, and said the new charges demonstrated a refusal by Beijing to abide by the landmark agreement.
The moves mark the latest push by the Trump administration to punish China for its alleged cyberattacks on American companies, a problem U.S. officials have said has metastasized into a preeminent national and economic security threat.
“No country should be able to flout the rule of law––so we’re going to keep calling out this behavior for what it is: illegal, unethical and unfair,” FBI Director Chris Wray said at a press conference announcing the charges after they were unsealed in federal court in Manhattan.
Thursday’s indictments draw direct links between the alleged hackers and China’s Ministry of State Security. They also allege that Chinese authorities approved of and directed the campaign. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the expected charges in October.
At least a dozen countries saw companies victimized by this cyber campaign, including in the banking and finance, telecommunications, health care, oil and gas and automotive industries, said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
The defendants, Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, are also accused of participating in hacking campaigns that targeted several U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Energy, laboratories at NASA and the U.S. Navy. The Chinese hacking group stole personal information, including social security numbers and dates of birth, from over 100,000 Navy personnel, officials said.
China’s Ministry of State Security, which the indictment says worked directly with the defendants, doesn’t accept media inquiries. Chinese Foreign Ministry officials have consistently said that Beijing doesn’t condone computer hacking in any form, and frequently say China is one of the world’s biggest victims of cyberattacks. The defendants weren’t immediately available for comment.
Additional Chinese nationals had been under consideration for U.S. prosecution, and the administration had also considered levying sanctions against people involved in the hack and against the entities that benefited from the stolen information, according to current and former U.S. officials and others familiar with the matter. Some expressed disappointment at what they considered a relatively tame effort to punish China for its alleged misdeeds.
Current and former U.S. officials have described the hacking campaign against technology-service providers as one of the most audacious and potentially damaging of all the hacking campaigns waged by Chinese hackers in recent years against American interests, one intended to steal intellectual property and support Beijing’s espionage goals.
Private-sector cybersecurity researchers have previously identified those attacks as the work of a hacking enterprise known as “APT 10” or “cloudhopper,” and linked them to Beijing. The hacks allowed intruders potential access to scores of American companies and government agencies that rely on the service providers for a wide range of digital tasks, such as the remote management of technology infrastructure or cloud storage.
The U.K. issued a statement supporting the action by the U.S. government, and other countries were expected to release similar statements, officials said.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that London and its allies believe the Chinese state has been conducting an extensive campaign to steal commercial secrets from companies in Europe, Asia and the U.S.
“These activities must stop,” Mr. Hunt said in a statement. “Our message to governments prepared to enable these activities is clear: together with our allies, we will expose your actions and take other necessary steps to ensure the rule of law is upheld.”
Thursday’s moves mark the latest in a flurry of actions taken by the Justice Department and other agencies to publicly shame and punish China for what officials have described as years of cyberattacks against U.S. companies that cost the American economy as much as hundreds of billions of dollars annually, according to some government estimates.
“It is unacceptable that we continue to uncover cybercrime committed by China against other nations,” Mr. Rosenstein said. He added that more than 90% of the Justice Department cases alleging economic espionage over the past seven years have involved China, and that over two-thirds of the cases involving thefts of trade secrets also lead back to that main U.S. economic rival of the U.S.
In October, federal prosecutors unsealed charges against 10 Chinese intelligence officers with a different regional bureau of the Ministry of State Security, accusing them of hacking U.S. aviation companies.
The Justice Department followed days later with more charges against a Chinese state-owned firm and its Taiwan partner for allegedly stealing trade secrets from the U.S.’s largest memory-chip maker, Micron Technology Inc. There have also been renewed worries about Chinese hackers breaking into U.S. Navy contractors to steal advanced military technology.
Taken collectively, the charges over the past three months represent the most significant effort to date by U.S. law-enforcement officials to publicize and condemn Beijing’s intrusions into American businesses. They also arrive as federal investigators have grown increasingly confident that the data breach recently disclosed by Marriott International Inc. was China’s handiwork and amid renewed worries about Chinese hackers breaking into Navy contractors to steal advanced military technology. China denied it had a role in the Marriott data breach.
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