The US Department of Justice announced on Tuesday the first criminal charges against hackers suspected of attacking companies that develop covid-19 vaccines, allegedly in collaboration with the Chinese government.
The hackers, identified as Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, are accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in intellectual property and trade secrets, information they knew was of value to the Chinese government, prosecutors said, in addition to conspiracy to commit computer fraud .
According to the Associated Press (AP) news agency, the prosecution points out that in January Li conducted a reconnaissance on the computer network of a Massachusetts biotechnology company, known to be investigating a potential vaccine, and looked for vulnerabilities on a company’s network. Maryland, less than a week after the company announced it was conducting similar scientific work.
Li has also probed the networks of a California diagnostic company involved in the development of test kits and a biotechnology company in the same state that conducts antiviral drug research.
In some cases, according to the prosecution, the defendants also reportedly provided an official in China’s secret services with e-mail accounts and passwords belonging to dissidents and pro-democracy activists.
The Chinese official also reportedly provided malicious ‘software’ to hackers, after struggling to attack the email server of a Burmese human rights group.
Computer hacking would have started more than 10 years ago, targeting pharmaceutical and solar companies, but also political dissidents, activists and clergy in the United States, China and Hong Kong, federal officials said.
Federal officials however admitted on Tuesday that defendants, who are not in judicial custody, are not likely to be tried in US courts, but considered the charge to have a symbolic and dissuasive value.
Deputy Attorney General John Demers, the senior Justice Department official for national security, accused China of “providing a safe haven for hackers”.
These are the US Department of Justice’s first criminal charges against foreign hackers suspected of targeting the investigation related to the new coronavirus, despite multiple complaints.
Last week, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada accused a group of hackers of being behind an attempt to steal research for a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, adding that they were “almost certainly in the services Russian secrets ”.
China rebutted on July 17 what it considered “insulting defamations” and Washington attacks after the United States denounced ‘hackers’ allegedly linked to the Chinese government of attacking US universities and companies to steal research related to the development of a vaccine for the new coronavirus.
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