The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday indicted two Chinese nationals, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, for their involvement in cyber espionage campaign targeting bodies such as defense contractor, COVID researchers and a host of others around the world.
The indictment, made public on Tuesday July 21, 2020, was an outcome of investigation triggered in 2015 when Li and Dong broke into Hanford Site, a decommissioned U.S. nuclear complex network in eastern Washington State.
According to the U.S authorities, Li and Dong are Chinese government contractors and their operations have targeted Chinese opposition figures, dissidents and others from whom they have illegally obtained loads of information such as personal data, drug information and source code.
It is said that the hackers have attempted stealing COVID-19 vaccine research of a Massachusetts biotech firm early July, an allegation which one expert said shows how critical Covid-19 research data is to China and other governments around the world.
While addressing a virtual press conference on Tuesday, John Demers, U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security said the hackings is an indication that China is indifferent to the operations of those cybercriminals who operate within its border.
“In this manner, China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran, and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provides safe haven for cybercriminals in exchange for those criminals being on call for the benefit of the state,” Demers said.
The indictment also alleged that China’s Ministry of State Security, MSS supplied information to the hackers to enable them break into critical software vulnerabilities and gain access into their intelligence.
While commenting on the indictment, a senior analyst at FireEye, cybersecurity company, Ben Read, said, “It is a fundamental threat to all governments around the world and we expect information relating to treatments and vaccines to be targeted by multiple cyber espionage sponsors.”
“Using these freelancers allows the government to access a wider array of talent, while also providing some deniability in conducting these operations,” Read added, referring to how China’s government had relished on using contractors to conduct its cyber espionage.