US indicts Chinese hackers on charges of targeting coronavirus vaccine data and defence secrets

(South China Morning Post | July 22, 2020) The US government has indicted two Chinese nationals in connection with long-running cyber espionage operations that aimed to net information on Covid-19 vaccines, military weapons and human rights activists, in what is the second Justice Department indictment against individuals from China in recent days.

“You’re seeing more inter-agency cooperation to manage this threat.”

Li Xiaoyu, 34, and Dong Jiazhi, 33, were charged with 11 counts of conspiracy, identity theft and fraud related to operations carried out from China since 2009, some in conjunction with China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), according to an indictment filed on July 7 with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington and unsealed on Tuesday …

…“This is information warfare so there’s a lot of evasion and distraction going on here,” said Corrinne Zoli, director of research at the Institute for Security Policy & Law at Syracuse University in New York. “I think the issue is not that the Chinese need more clinical data to sort out their own vaccine programmes.”

China is more likely to be “trying to probe the US response to what really is an economic and security threat that is the pandemic”, she added. “They’re trying to figure out if the response is leading to the US to be more stable or unstable, if their response is indicative of a government that resilient or a government that’s in crisis” …

… “What you’re seeing now is just an administration that’s got a more of a forward posture … you’re seeing more inter-governmental operability, you’re seeing more inter-agency cooperation to manage this threat,” said Zoli. “Any nation state that has capacity, and usually that’s any nation state with a developed military, is going to have some information warfare capacity,” including the US.

The difference, she added, is that while the US government limits cyber espionage to the countering of national security threats, China is more inclined to hack for economic and commercial secrets as well.
“That’s where I think they are in a league of their own,” she said …

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