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The U.S. Department of Justice has accused China of sponsoring hackers who are targeting labs that develop Covid-19 vaccines.

Officials accused two Chinese men who allegedly spied on US companies conducting coronavirus searches and obtained help from state agents for other thefts.

The prosecution comes amid an American crackdown on Chinese cyber espionage.

Last week the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada accused Russia of trying to steal Covid-19 research.

The charges against former electrical engineering students Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi released Tuesday include allegations of trade secret theft and fraudulent conspiracy.

What are the charges?

Prosecutors reported that the two men spied on a Massachusetts biotechnology company in January that was known to search for possible cures for Covid-19. They also hacked a Maryland company less than a week after stating that it was researching Covid-19.

Officials called private hackers men who occasionally received support from Chinese intelligence agents, including an official from the Chinese State Security Ministry (MSS).

They had previously stolen “hundreds of millions of dollar trade secrets, intellectual property and other valuable business information” as of 2009, prosecutors said.

The uncontested accusation in Washington state states that the two men – residing in China – recently “researched vulnerabilities in biotechnology networks and other publicly known companies for work on Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and test technology. “.

The countries in which businesses were targeted include Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

According to the prosecution, hackers were able to infiltrate a British artificial intelligence company, a Spanish defense contractor and an Australian solar energy company.

Why is China accused of supporting them?

Prosecutors said men sometimes acted in their own self-interest – including one occasion when they asked for a ransom from a company in exchange for not divulging its private information – but at other times “they were stealing information of obvious interest. “to the Chinese government.

According to the prosecution, hackers “worked with, were assisted by, and operated with the acquiescence of” MSS.

FBI director: China is the “biggest threat” to the United States

They allegedly stole military data and provided the Chinese government with the passwords of a Hong Kong democratic activist and a former Tiananmen square protester.

“China has now taken its place, along with Russia, Iran and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provides a safe haven for cybercriminals in exchange for those” guard criminals “who work for the benefit of the state. , here to fuel the Chinese Communist Party’s insatiable hunger for the intellectual property hard earned by American and non-Chinese companies, including the Covid-19 search, “John Demers, deputy attorney general for national security, said Tuesday.

Chinese officials have not yet commented on the latest allegation, but have previously denied allegations of intellectual property theft.

Earlier this month, FBI director Christopher Wray accused China of “an entire state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary”.

“We have now reached a point where the FBI is now opening a new counterintelligence case related to China every 10 hours,” said Wray. “Of the nearly 5,000 active counterintelligence cases currently ongoing across the country, almost half are related to China.”

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