UPDATED 7:18 AM PT – Tuesday, July 20, 2021
The Department of Justice is taking on China’s increasing threats on cybersecurity after charging four Chinese nationals in connection with a global cyber hacking campaign. Top federal prosecutors announced efforts to deter Chinese aggression in cyberspace.
On Monday, the Department of Justice slapped charges on four Chinese nationals who prosecutors said were employees of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS). They are all accused of targeting dozens of companies, universities and government bodies between 2011 and 2018 to steal trade secrets to benefit Chinese state-owned companies. Additionally, prosecutors said the hacking conspiracy expands beyond the U.S. and includes targets from Saudi Arabia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
“These defendants coordinated with universities in China to achieve the goals of the conspiracy,” explained Randy Grossman, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. “For example, they worked with professors to organize hacking competitions with cash prizes. The goal was simple: to find China’s best hackers and recruit them to steal intellectual property for the benefit of China and its state controlled companies.”
The DOJ said the defendants used an array of methods to carry out their hacks, including sending spearphishing emails using stolen personal information and passwords as well as establishing sophisticated malware software. They were previously flagged by private sector researchers who called the group a “advanced persistent threat.”
“China’s foreign intelligence officials are trained to avoid detection and they did everything they could to hide their crimes, but the team of agents and prosecutors in this case found them,” Grossman continued. “And in doing so have shown China’s government and the world the unwavering commitment of the Department of Justice to protect the United States against all threats: foreign and domestic.”
This comes as the U.S. and allied countries blamed the Chinese government for a massive cyber attack earlier this year. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement noting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) needs to be held accountable for its irresponsible behavior in cyberspace.
During a recent briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki claimed the U.S. will take action where warranted and the White House will be in touch with Chinese officials at a high level. However, during a press conference Monday, Joe Biden went against his own Justice Department by stating he doesn’t believe the Chinese government is behind the attacks.
WATCH: Joe Biden says he won't sanction China for recent hacking because China is only "protecting" the hackers. pic.twitter.com/V0YymRF5rX
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) July 19, 2021
In the meantime, Biden is expected to get a detailed report Tuesday to get a better understanding of the Chinese hack from top intelligence and national security experts. The White House is not expected to take significant action to punish Beijing, but appeared to leave the door open for future action.
The suspected MSS operatives are facing a slew of charges, including conspiracy to commit computer fraud and economic espionage. Those charges combined carries a prison sentence of up to 20-years.