Chinese Hackers Charged in Decade-Long Global Spying Rampage


For years, China’s state-backed hackers have stolen huge troves of company secrets, political intelligence, and the personal information of millions of people. On Monday, officials in the United States and United Kingdom expanded the long list of hacking allegations, claiming China is responsible for breaching the UK’s elections watchdog and accessing 40 million people’s data. The countries also issued a raft of criminal charges and sanctions against a separate Chinese group following a multiyear hacking rampage.

In August last year, the UK’s Electoral Commission revealed “hostile actors” had infiltrated its systems in August 2021 and could potentially access sensitive data for 14 months until they were booted out in October 2022. Deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, told lawmakers on Monday that a China state-backed actor was responsible for the attack. In addition, Dowden said, the UK’s intelligence services have determined Chinese hacking group APT31 targeted the email accounts of politicians in 2021.

“This is the latest in a clear pattern of malicious cyber activity by Chinese state-affiliated organizations and individuals targeting democratic institutions and parliamentarians in the UK and beyond,” Dowden said in the UK’s House of Commons. The revelations were accompanied by the UK sanctioning two individuals and one company linked to APT31.

Alongside the UK’s announcement on Monday, the US Department of Justice and Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control unveiled further action against APT31, also known as Violet Typhoon, Bronze Vinewood, and Judgement Panda, including charging seven Chinese nationals with the conspiracy to commit computer intrusions and wire fraud.

The DOJ claims the hacking group, which has been linked back to China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) spy agency, has spent 14 years targeting thousands of critics, businesses, and political entities around the world in widespread espionage campaigns. This includes posing as journalists to send more than 10,000 malicious emails that tracked recipients, compromising email accounts, cloud storage accounts, telephone call records, home routers, and more. The spouses of one high-ranking White House official and those of multiple US senators were also targeted, the DOJ says.

“These allegations pull back the curtain on China’s vast illegal hacking operation that targeted sensitive data from US elected and government officials, journalists and academics; valuable information from American companies; and political dissidents in America and abroad,” Breon Peace, a US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. “Their sinister scheme victimized thousands of people and entities across the world, and lasted for well over a decade.”

The moves come as countries increasingly warn of an increase in China-linked espionage, during a year when more than 100 countries will host major elections. Statements from officials focus on the impact of the hacking activity on democratic processes, including the targeting of elected officials around the world and the compromising of pro-democracy activists and lawmakers in Hong Kong. However, the disclosures also coincide with continued jostling from Western politicians over pro- or anti-China stances, including the proposed sale of TikTok to a US company, which could result in a ban on the popular app.



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