Department of Justice: Chinese hackers pose as Wuhan tech companies to target politicians and US companies

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The Justice Department on Monday released an indictment charging seven Chinese nationals with coordinating cyberattacks targeting politicians and U.S. companies on behalf of the Chinese government over more than a decade under the guise of a Wuhan tech company.

Defendants—Ni Gaobin, Weng Ming, Cheng Feng, Peng Yaowen, Sun Xiaohui. Xiong Wang and Zhao Guangzong are charged in connection with a massive Chinese hacking operation that allegedly targeted sensitive data of U.S. elected officials, journalists, and academics. Valuable information from American companies. and political dissidents in the United States and abroad. The “massive global hacking operation” is said to have involved more than 10,000 malicious emails and affected thousands of victims on multiple continents.

The Biden administration’s announcement comes after British Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said on Monday that Chinese government-linked groups also hacked Britain’s electoral register and stole the personal information of tens of millions of voters. It was conducted.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said, “The Department of Justice is committed to intimidating Americans who serve the public, silencing dissidents protected by U.S. law, and stealing from American businesses.” “We will not tolerate the Chinese government’s efforts to do so.” “This incident serves as a reminder of Beijing’s intent to target and intimidate its critics, including launching malicious cyber operations aimed at threatening the national security of the United States and its allies. There is.”

The US Treasury also sanctioned Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Co., Ltd. (Wuhan XRZ). According to US authorities, the company is a front company for the Ministry of State Security (MSS) based in Wuhan, China, and is a front for multiple malicious cyber operations.

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The Department of Justice releases indictments against Chinese nationals Ni Gaobin, Weng Ming, Cheng Feng, Peng Yaowen, Sun Xiaohui, Xiong Wan, and Zhao Guangzong. did. (Zhao Kwangjong) Monday. (Stephanie Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

According to the indictment, between June and September 2018, the seven defendants sent emails to business and personal email addresses belonging to “high-ranking U.S. government officials and their advisors, including officials involved in international policy and foreign trade matters.” Sent over 10,000 malicious email messages. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York stated:

“Since at least 2015, conspirators have sent thousands of malicious tracking email messages to personal and professional email accounts of government and political officials in the United States and elsewhere, including the targets’ families and contacts. ,” the indictment alleges. “Malicious email messages typically purport to be from prominent American journalists and include email subject headers that purport to contain legitimate news articles and excerpts of news articles from news outlets such as CNN and Vox. It contained the text of a message purporting to contain.”

Prosecutors also said the messages contained embedded hyperlinks that served as tracking links.

“When a recipient opens an email and enables a tracking link, information about the recipient, such as the recipient’s location, IP address, network diagram, and the specific device used to access the associated email account, is to a server controlled by a co-conspirator,” the indictment states. “Conspirators could use this technique to more directly and sophisticatedly target the home routers and other electronic devices of recipients, including U.S. government officials, politicians, and campaign staff from both major U.S. political parties. I made it.”

Targets are said to have included individuals in the White House. Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, Department of Treasury, and Department of State. Members of Congress, including both Democratic and Republican senators from more than 10 states. Government employees in the Eastern District of New York City. and the spouses of senior Justice Department officials, White House officials, and multiple U.S. senators.

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Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department will not tolerate the Chinese government’s efforts to intimidate Americans. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

According to the indictment, targets included political strategists, commentators, political and special interest advocates, and U.S. government contractors, including defense contractors licensed to obtain U.S. government information. It is said to be included. According to the Justice Department, in May 2020, the defendants began targeting the email accounts of several senior campaign staff for the presidential campaign. By November 2020, they allegedly sent emails containing tracking links to additional political campaign-related targets, including former U.S. government national security officials.

“In or about March 2022, the co-conspirators sent emails containing tracking links to various government officials, including the U.S. Senate, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Transportation,” the indictment states. Justice Department prosecutors said the seven Chinese nationals were critical of the Chinese government, including members of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition on China (“IPAC”), a group founded in 2020 on the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. It said it also targeted other government officials around the world who had made statements. Square protests aimed at countering the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party to international order and democratic principles.

FBI Director Christopher Wray attends Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on December 5, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

According to the indictment, the Hubei State Security Department (“HSSD”), MSS’s provincial foreign intelligence division located in Wuhan, first created Wuhan XRZ in 2010 to conduct computer intrusion activities.

“The Chinese government’s business license issued by the China Market Regulation Authority lists Wuhan XRZ as a company engaged in research and experimental development, technology development, technology consulting, and technology transfer,” the newspaper said.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also accused two defendants believed to be connected to the Wuhan XRZ, Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin, of “malicious activities targeting U.S. companies operating within the Wuhan XRZ.” It was announced that he would be nominated for his role in cyber operations. The U.S. critical infrastructure sector directly jeopardizes U.S. national security. ”

The US State Department announced a Justice Award for information on seven Chinese nationals, their organizations, and associated individuals and entities, and the UK Department of Foreign Affairs, Commonwealth and Development issued similar sanctions.

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“The United States is committed to both deterring the dangerous and irresponsible actions of malicious cyber actors and protecting our citizens and critical infrastructure,” Brian E. Nelson, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement. We’re focusing on that,” he said. “Through a whole-of-government approach and working closely with our UK partners, the Treasury will continue to use its tools to expose these networks and protect against these threats.”

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