The US has charged two Chinese men accused of hacking into the computer networks of companies and government agencies in over a dozen countries. The US Department of Justice said the two men are affiliated with China’s main intelligence agency but were a part of a group known as APT 10 – Advanced Persistent Threat 10.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said that two men identified as Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong have been working against the US and other countries from 2006.
The duo extensively hacked into computer systems with the aim of stealing intellectual property and confidential business and technological information from managed service providers (MSPs) and their government and commercial clients in at least 12 countries, including Brazil, Canada, India, Finland, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UAE, as well as the US.
They targeted at least 45 commercial and defence technology companies in at least 12 US states. The FBI said they had also hacked into US Navy computer systems and stole the personal information of more than 100,000 personnel.
Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong have been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The US Justice Department accused China of breaking a 2015 pact to curb cyber espionage for corporate purposes.
"China's goal, simply put, is to replace the US as the world's leading superpower and they're using illegal methods to get there," FBI Director Chris Wray said at a news conference. The companies targeted by China were the "who's who" of US businesses, Wray said.
The duo are not on US soil and hence the FBI has not been able to arrest them.
The UK said it was joining allies in holding the Chinese government responsible for the global hacking campaign. "This campaign shows that elements of the Chinese government are not upholding the commitments China made directly to the UK in a 2015 bilateral agreement," the statement said.
These latest charges come just days after US authorities revealed that Chinese government-linked hackers were behind the data theft of some 500 million guests of hotel chain Marriott.
This development also corresponds with the accusations leveled by US President Donald Trump against China of forcing US companies to part with critical intellectual property in return for letting them operate on Chinese soil. Intellectual property transfer and theft has formed a big part of the ensuing trade war between the two countries.