DOJ indicts Chinese hackers accused of targeting COVID-19 research

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday rolled out an 11-count indictment against two Chinese hackers allegedly involved in targeting “hundreds” of companies around the world, including most recently U.S. groups researching COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

The indictment alleges that Chinese nationals Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi stole terabytes of data over 10 years from companies in nations including the U.S., Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The defendants, who currently work for the Guangdong Province International Affairs Research Center in China, targeted companies in the fields of high-tech manufacturing, medical device and industrial engineering, education, gaming software, solar energy, defense and pharmaceuticals, the DOJ said.

Most recently, the defendants are alleged to have targeted the networks of U.S. companies involved in coronavirus research, including those developing vaccines and treatments.

The indictment noted that while the defendants often targeted the companies for their own gain, they also worked at the behest of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) or other Chinese government agencies. The defendants are alleged to have given the MSS email passwords belonging to Chinese dissidents, allowing the targeting of a Hong Kong community organizer, a Christian church in China and a former Tiananmen Square protester, among others.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers said during a press conference Tuesday that the actions of the defendants and of the Chinese government in protecting them ran “afoul of norms of acceptable state behavior in cyberspace, which the international community must address.”

“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,” Demers said.