Coronavirus US: Chinese hackers charged over vaccine research

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"In this matter, 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 for the benefit of the state", Demers said.

China accused the United States last month of smearing Beijing following allegations that Chinese hackers were attempting to steal coronavirus research. "The FBI and our global partners will not stand idly by to this threat, and we are committed to holding the Chinese government accountable", he added.

"There are literally hundreds of millions of dollars worth of trade secrets, intellectual property and other valuable information that has been stolen", said William Hyslop, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Washington state.

The indictment includes a list 25 unnamed companies that were alleged victims, including a Texas engineering and technology firm, a MA software company and a Virginia defense contractor.

Hackers working with the Chinese government targeted firms developing vaccines for the coronavirus and stole hundreds of millions of dollars worth of intellectual property and trade secrets from companies across the world, the Justice Department said Tuesday as it announced criminal charges.

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.

Both Chinese men allegedly broke into the accounts of democratic and human rights activists in the United States, Hong Kong, and even Mainland China.

But according to the indictment they included a Dutch electronics firm, a Swedish online gaming company, a Lithuanian gaming company, a German software engineering firm, a Belgian engineering software company, an Australian defence contractor, a South Korean shipbuilding firm, a Spanish electronics and defence firm and a British artificial intelligence and cancer research company. 'More recently, the defendants probed for vulnerabilities in computer networks of companies developing COVID-19 vaccines, testing technology and treatments'.

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And their alleged activity on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party's government, according to the Justice Department, was not limited simply to stealing intellectual property. "Today's indictment demonstrates the serious consequences the Chinese MSS and its proxies will face if they continue to deploy malicious cyber tactics to either steal what they can not create or silence what they do not want to hear", said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich.

In May, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued its first public warning that Chinese government hackers were seeking to steal data from firms conducting COVID-19 research and testing.

"China steals intellectual property and research, which bolsters its economy, and then they use that illicit gain as a weapon to silence any country that would dare challenge their illegal actions", FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said Tuesday.

'This type of economic coercion is not what we expect from a trusted world leader.

The indictment includes charges of trade secret theft and wire fraud conspiracy against the hackers, former classmates at an electrical engineering college who prosecutors say had worked together for more than a decade. "It is what we expect for an organized criminal syndicate".

Beijing has repeatedly denied involvement in any state-sponsored efforts to hack into USA, or anyone else's, computer networks.

Hours after the USA indictment, China's United Kingdom ambassador, Liu Xiaoming, rejected claims by the west that China was stealing research data as "groundless".

The country has not yet responded to the charges leveled against Li and Dong.

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