Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. Department of Justice has indicted two Chinese spies involved in an international hacking scheme that targeted 45 private firms and government organizations over a span of 12 years.
Included in the victim list are so-called “managed service providers” (MSPs) in the United States and around the world. MSPs store and remotely manage the servers and networks of their client firms. Examples of MSPs are IBM, Accenture, Infosys, Capgemini and Wipro.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the two Chinese men — Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong — are members of the APT 10 (Advanced Persistent Threat 10) hacking group based in mainland China.
A New York grand jury indicted Zhu and Zhang in absentia for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment was unsealed yesterday.
The indictment says that from around 2006 to 2018, APT 10 conducted extensive hacking campaigns in which it stole information from more than 45 victim organizations, including American companies. The FBI said hundreds of gigabytes of sensitive data were stolen from companies in a diverse range of industries such as finance, manufacturing, healthcare, biotechnology, and oil and gas.
FBI Director Christopher Wray described the list of companies as a “Who’s Who” of the global economy. Even government agencies like NASA and the Department of Energy were among the victims.
Wray said the hack is part of China’s ongoing efforts to steal intellectual property from other countries.
“Healthy competition is good for the global economy. Criminal conduct is not,” said Wray. “Rampant theft is not. Cheating is not.”
Wray said APT 10 used the old but effective ploy called “spear phishing” to introduce malware onto targeted computers. The hackers sent emails that appeared to be from legitimate addresses but contained attachments that installed a program to secretly record all keystrokes on the machine, including user names and passwords.
APT 10 hacks against MSPs allowed Chinese spies to indirectly gain access to confidential data of numerous companies that are clients of the MSPs.
Wray pointed out that the cyber espionage threat from China is the most pervasive among them all.
“China’s goal, simply put, is to replace the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower, and they’re using illegal methods to get there,” said Wray. “They’re using an expanding set of non-traditional and illegal methods. China’s state-sponsored actors are the most active perpetrators of state-sponsored espionage against us.”
This indictment is the latest in a series of charges against international hackers that target the United States and its allies. In October, seven Russian spies were charged with hacking into the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA). Last month, two Iranians were charged with using ransomware to infiltrate key networks in the United States and Canada.
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