US charges Chinese hackers over COVID-19 vaccine cyberattacks

US charges Chinese hackers over COVID-19 vaccine cyberattacks

The US Department of Justice is charging two Chinese hackers with cyberattacks intended to steal company secrets — including against researchers working to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

In court documents released Tuesday, the US accused Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, two Chinese nationals who allegedly hacked on behalf of the Chinese government. The indictment says that the presumed hackers researched vulnerabilities in the networks of research firms known for working on COVID-19 vaccines.

Prior to the pandemic, the two had been responsible for hacking businesses, gaming software makers, and pharmaceuticals and technology companies to steal their secrets, the indictment says. The Justice Department said the first attack was discovered in Hanford, Washington. Victims were in countries including the US, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, the UK and South Korea. Prosecutors said the hackers had been stealing secrets since at least September 2009.

Xiaoyu and Jiazhi stole “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of trade secrets, intellectual property, and other valuable business information,” prosecutors said. The targets also included defense contractors and information related to military satellite programs.

The two would use known vulnerabilities that had not been patched, or newly-discovered security flaws provided by the Chinese government, according to the indictment. They would often steal passwords and continually access a network while remaining undiscovered.

“The scale and scope of the hacking activities sponsored by the PRC intelligence services against the US and our international partners is unlike any other threat we’re facing today,” FBI deputy director David Bowdich said at a press conference Tuesday.

In May, the FBI said it was investigating hacking attempts from China against COVID-19 vaccine research centers. China isn’t the only country looking to gain an advantage in the pandemic through cyberattacks. Officials from the UK, Canada and the US also have accused Russian hackers of attempts to steal information about a COVID-19 vaccine…Read more>>