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The Justice Department on Tuesday indicted two Chinese nationals who are suspected of hacking numerous U.S. firms to steal trade secrets and coronavirus research.
The Trump administration warned in May that China was attempting to steal or set back American research on a coronavirus vaccine. The new indictment alleges that one of the two suspects began searching for vulnerabilities at a Maryland-based healthcare company on January 27 of this year, days before the company announced it had begun research on a vaccine.
The suspects, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, are believed to reside in China.
“Li and Dong, former classmates at an electrical engineering college in Chengdu, China, used their technical training to hack the computer networks of a wide variety of victims” since at least 2009, the indictment states. The victims include firms focused on “high tech manufacturing; civil, industrial, and medical device engineering; business, educational, and gaming software development; solar energy; and pharmaceuticals.”
The hackers purportedly worked in some cases for their own profit, stealing “hundreds of millions of dollars in trade secrets,” while in others they were employed by China’s Ministry of State Security.
“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,” DOJ National Security Division head John Demers said in a statement.
Following Tuesday’s indictment, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) introduced a bill that would allow the president to impose sanctions on foreign entities involved in hacking of American companies.
“We refuse to allow our innovation to be exploited by China, Russia, or any other hackers,” McCarthy said in a statement. “We are going to protect the cure from falling into the wrong hands so that no one can use it as leverage for their own malicious ends.”