The US Justice Department has accused two Chinese hackers of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of trade secrets from companies across the world and targeting firms developing a vaccine for coronavirus.
The indictment says the hackers in recent months had researched vulnerabilities in the computer networks of companies publicly known for their work in developing vaccines and treatments.
The indictment includes charges of trade secret theft and wire fraud conspiracy against the hackers, who federal prosecutors say stole information they knew would be of interest to the Chinese government.
WATCH: Today at 11:30am ET, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers and Justice Department officials to announce charges in a national security cyber matter. https://t.co/VOabbFCPRW— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) July 21, 2020
The charges are believed to be the first accusing foreign hackers of targeting scientific innovation related to coronavirus, although US and Western intelligence agencies have warned for months about those efforts.
Last week, authorities in the US, Canada and the UK accused a hacking group with links to Russian intelligence of trying to target research on the disease.
“China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cyber criminals 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,” said assistant attorney John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official.
There was no immediate indication from the indictment that the hackers had obtained any Covid-19 research, despite efforts to snoop on the companies.
But prosecutors say the defendants in January conducted reconnaissance on the computer network of a Massachusetts biotech firm known to be researching a potential vaccine, and searched for vulnerabilities on the network of a Maryland firm less than a week after it said it was conducting similar work.
The case was filed earlier this month in federal court in Washington state and was unsealed on Tuesday.