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US indicts two Chinese hackers for attempting to steal COVID-19 drug and vaccine research

Published on 22/07/20 at 10:59am
Photo by Senior Airman Areca Wilson

Two Chinese hackers have been charged in the US with hacking medical companies and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of trade secrets and sensitive government information by a federal grand jury in Washington.

The 11 count indictment alleges Li Xiaoyu, 34, and Dong Jiazhi, 33, were both trained in computer applications technologies at the same university in China, and conducted a hacking campaign that lasted more than ten years. They targeted pharmaceutical, defense, gaming, engineering and medical device companies across multiple countries in Europe, North America and Asia. As well as extorting people for cryptocurrency, the pair also probed for vulnerabilities in computer networks of companies developing coronavirus vaccines.

The indictment also said the pair was assisted by an unnamed Chinese intelligence officer who is known to the grand jury. The pair are each charged with: one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of unauthorized access of a computer and seven counts of aggravated identity theft. They are both facing decades in prison.

John C. Demers, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, said: “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’ to work for the benefit of the state, here to feed the Chinese Communist party’s insatiable hunger for American and other non-Chinese companies’ hard-earned intellectual property, including COVID-19 research.”

The investigation was collaboration by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, the National Security Division of the Department of Justice and the FBI’s Spokane Resident Agency and San Antonio Field Office.  

Raymond Duda, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle Division, said: “The complicated nature of cyber investigations is only exacerbated when the criminal is backed by the resources of a foreign government. The nature and value of the material stolen by these hackers cannot just be measured in dollars and was indicative of being state driven. This case demonstrates the FBI's dedication to pursuing these criminals no matter who is sanctioning their activities.”

This indictment comes after the UK, US and Canada said Russia associated hackers had been targeting companies researching COVID-19 vaccines.

Conor Kavanagh

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