The US Justice Department on Thursday announced the indictment of two Chinese government hackers who allegedly targeted 45 companies and agencies in a dozen countries, which US officials said showed Beijing had not fulfilled its pledge to stop such actions.
In an operation coordinated with US allies in Europe and Asia, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the move was being made to rebuff “China’s economic aggression.”
The Justice Department said the hackers had targeted numerous managed service providers (MSPs), specialist firms which help other companies manage their information technology systems — potentially giving hackers an entry into the computer networks of dozens of companies.
Rosenstein slammed Beijing for repeatedly violating a pledge made by Chinese President Xi Jinping to then-president Barack Obama in 2015 to halt cyber attacks on US companies and commercial infrastructure.
“These defendants allegedly compromised MSP clients in at least a dozen countries,” Rosenstein said. “It is unacceptable that we continue to uncover cybercrime committed by China against other nations.”
“We want China to cease its illegal cyber activities and honor its commitment to the international community,” he said.
“But the evidence suggests that China may not intend to live up to its promises.”
The Justice Department said the two hackers, Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, worked for the so-called APT10 hacker group allegedly backed by China’s Ministry of State Security.
The two worked with the ministry’s Tianjin State Security Bureau, it said.
“From at least in or about 2006 up to and including in or about 2018, members of the APT10 Group, including Zhu and Zhang, conducted extensive campaigns of intrusions into computer systems around the world,” it said.
The Justice Department said that one of the managed service providers hacked was a New York company that gave the Chinese nationals access to data from the company’s clients involved in banking, telecommunications, medical equipment, manufacturing, health care, biotechnology, oil and gas exploration, and others.
The indictments came amid heightened tensions over trade, hacking and geopolitical issues between Washington and Beijing.
On October 30, the US indicted 10 Chinese nationals, including two intelligence officers, over a five-year scheme to steal engine technology from US and French aerospace firms by hacking into their computers.
Earlier that month, the Department of Justice obtained the unprecedented extradition of a senior Chinese intelligence official from Belgium to stand trial in the United States for running the alleged state-sponsored effort to steal US aviation industry secrets.
In early December, Canada arrested an executive of China’s leading Huawei telecommunications company at Washington’s request.
The US plans to charge her with fraud charges related to sanctions-breaking business dealings with Iran.
Since then, China has detained three Canadians, in an apparent bid to pressure Ottawa into fully releasing the Huawei executive, who is now out on bail.
And, according to reports, US officials believe Chinese government-linked hackers were behind the theft of data on some 500 million guests of hotel giant Marriott, first reported on November 30.