US accuses China of ‘sponsoring hackers’ seeking to steal COVID vaccine research

The United States Justice Department, on Tuesday, levelled serious allegations against a pair of Chinese hackers that they were ‘seeking to steal Covid-19 vaccine research and intellectual property’ from hundreds of companies in the US.

The Justice Department claimed that the hackers were targeting the vaccine development on behalf of China’s intelligence service as part of a much broader yearlong campaign of global cyber theft that aimed at hacking companies engaged in high-tech manufacturing, pharmaceuticals etc., a Washington Post article reported.

US government officials said that the two suspects, Li Xiaoyu, 34, and Dong Jiazhi, 33, are known to have previously also targeted human rights activists in US, China and Hong Kong.

This year, the officials claimed, the hackers began trying to acquire coronavirus vaccine research at the behest of the China’s Ministry of State Security.

“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,” Assistant Attorney for National Security John Demers said addressing a press conference.

Demur called the accused hackers “a prolific threat to U.S. and foreign networks.” And labelled the suspects as a blended threat who sometimes worked “for their own personal gain” and sometimes for the benefit of China’s Ministry of State security, The Indian Express eported.

The U.S.-China Cyber Agreement was believed to have successfully slowed China’s hacking for about 18 months, significantly reducing the industrial espionage work done by the Chinese Military. However, it has been reported that even as the agreement was purportedly being honored, both Li and Dong had made attempts to steak American state secrets in 2016 and 2017 under Chinese intelligence agency’s supervision, the Express reported.

News of the indictment came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in London meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss the two allies’ rising tensions with China. Popeo said how the United States was keenly considering building global coalition to counter China and its expansionist agendas.

Just last week Britain delivered a major blow to China by announcing its barring and withdrawal of the Chinese technology giant Huawei from its nascent 5G wireless networks.

The indictment of the hackers has come against the backdrop of deteriorating U.S.-China relations. The Trump administration, which faces re-election this November, has intensified its criticism against Beijing’s failure to contain the spread of coronavirus and for its theft of secrets.

The indictment is being seen as a significant escalation of the campaign to denounce Beijing’s image in the international community. Additionally, the indictment has highlighted China’s failure and sheer complacency with regards to placing effective curbs on its spying as promised under the Cyber Security Agreement signed with the United States in October 2015.


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