The United States Justice Department has accused two hackers of trying to steal coronavirus research from US firms and handing them to China. The allegations come as the two cybercriminals have allegedly looted millions of dollars worth of sensitive information from several companies around the world while under Beijing's control.
The move comes as the first wherein the US government has linked a cyber theft campaign to a foreign government, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The indictment is meant to be a warning to other companies and research labs. It suggests that Trump and his administration, who have been openly accusing the Chinese and Russian governments of attempting to hack and steal valuable research data the US has on the coronavirus.
The two suspects, 34-year-old Li Xiaoyu and 33-year-old Dong Jiazhi have stolen sensitive information from several companies, research institutions, and defense contractors based in the US and more than nine other countries in the world over several years.
Prosecutors said the hackers also provided Beijing's spy agency with passwords to gain access to email accounts of dissidents including a community organizer from Hong Kong and a Christian church pastor.
Despite the Justice Department's history of being patient when unsealing indictments and waiting for the suspects to be in government custody, the agency has conducted several exclusions to foreign hackers who reside outside the United States.
United States officials have stated that the move gains benefits including disclosing evidence against the criminals that far outweigh the potential of dragging them into a US courtroom.
According to The New York Times, the indictment also suggests that Beijing has been less than motivated in its attempts to reduce its spying attempts than it had vowed to with the nonaggression pact signed in late 2015 with the United States. The pact aimed to curb the efforts of China in stealing US technological data and information.
Since the signing of the agreement, China's attempts at spying were thought to have been curbed for 18 months until the two suspects, Li and Dong, tried to hack into US companies in 2016 and 2017, ignoring the principles of the pact.
Denying the allegations
A press officer for the Chinese Embassy, when asked for comments about the allegations, pointed to Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, who said that Beijing opposed all forms of cyberattacks and threats.
The assistant attorney general for national security, John Demers, said on Tuesday that China had joined Russia and several other nations in supporting cybercriminals to further their own agenda and providing them with a haven, as reported by BBC.
Demers also noted that the countries involved are attempting to steal the United States' hard-earned coronavirus research and other intellectual properties.
Spokeswoman Chunying denied the allegations and said that the US government's accusations were absurd.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray had earlier this month accused China conducting a nationwide campaign to become the world's only superpower whatever means necessary.
Wray added that the FBI has gone inside uncharted territory of opening a China-related counterintelligence case every ten hours. The director stated that out of 5,000 active cases currently being looked investigated, nearly 50 percent are related to China.