US Charges Hackers for Stealing Data on COVID-19 Vaccine for China

covid-19 vaccine

The Justice Department charged two Chinese nationals suspected of stealing data from companies working on a COVID-19 vaccine around the world.

Li Xiaoyu, 34, and Dong Jiazhi, 33, are accused of the following: (1) unauthorized access; (2) conspiracy to access without authorization and damage computers; (3) conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets; (4) conspiracy to commit wire fraud; and (5) aggravated identity theft.

The pair, who are currently in China, allegedly hacked terabytes of data from “computer systems of hundreds of victim companies, governments, non-governmental organizations, and individual dissidents, clergy, and democratic and human rights activists in the United States and abroad, including Hong Kong and China.”

Some of their operations were allegedly carried out for their own economic benefits, while others were allegedly undertaken for the Guangdong State Security Department (GSSD) under China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi. PDF Screenshot (Cropped) via FBI

U.S. law enforcement officials recently discovered that Li and Dong accessed networks of companies developing COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and testing technologies.

The 11-count indictment does not indicate whether the pair had succeeded in stealing coronavirus research, but they allegedly hacked companies based in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas, Virginia and Washington state.

In May, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned that hackers linked to the Chinese government could be targeting American research on COVID-19.

“China steals intellectual property and research which bolsters its economy, and then they use that illicit gain as a weapon to silence any country that would dare challenge their illegal actions,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said of the recent indictment. “This type of economic coercion is not what we expect from a trusted world leader. It is what we expect from an organized criminal syndicate.”

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich announces charges against Chinese hackers Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi at a press conference on July 21, 2020. Bowdich was joined by other officials, including FBI Seattle Special Agent in Charge Raymond Duda (right). Image via FBI

China has repeatedly denied allegations that it is out to steal intellectual property, which other countries have also been accused of.

“China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cybercriminals 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,” said John C. Demers, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, calling Li and Dong “a prolific threat.”

Feature Image via FBI

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