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Justice Department Charges Chinese Hackers for Targeting US COVID-19 Research


There are new allegations from the Justice Department concerning a Chinese hacking operation reaching the US and around the world. This time targeting important research into the coronavirus vaccine.

A grand jury returned an 11-count indictment against two hackers who've allegedly been operating for more than a decade.  Authorities say the Chinese residents, named Li and Dong, trained in computer application technologies and have hacked hundreds of private and government systems worldwide. That includes targets related to COVID-19 treatment, testing, and vaccine development. Officials rattled off case after case.   

"They were doing reconnaissance in a Massachusetts firm involved in COVID vaccine research," said Bill Hyslop, US attorney for the Eastern District of Washington state. "Likewise, they did the same for a Maryland firm involved in biotech research."

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Officials say the hacking is two-fold: for the men's own financial benefit and to help the Chinese Communist Party.  The investigation revealed two important trends.

"China is using cyber intrusions as part of its rob, replicate and replace strategy to technological development," said John Demers, Assistant Attorney General. "China is providing a safe haven f0r criminal hackers who are doing so for their own personal gain but are willing to help the state."

The hacking was first discovered on the Department of Energy computers in Washington state. Authorities say the investigation took such a long time because the men covered their steps well. 

After discovering hundreds of millions of dollars stolen in trade secrets and intellectual property, the FBI is sending a strong message.

"We're bringing these charges today to put the Chinese leaders directing these cyber-attacks on notice," said Dave Bowdich, FBI deputy director. "There are serious consequences and risks for stealing our technological and intellectual property."

The two men are each charged with 11 crimes including conspiracy to commit computer fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted on all counts it could mean a sentence of more than 50 years in prison.  Also, authorities don't believe the men were successful at obtaining any COVID vaccine research secrets, though they say they were definitely after them.

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