U.S. and British Authorities Allege Cyber Security Attack by China, Impose Sanctions

On Monday, U.S. and British officials jointly announced charges and sanctions against Beijing, accusing the Chinese government of orchestrating a far-reaching cyber security attack campaign that targeted millions of individuals and entities worldwide, Reuters news report said.
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa MonacoThe hacking group, dubbed Advanced Persistent Threat 31 or “APT31” by authorities, is purportedly linked to China’s Ministry of State Security. Among the targets highlighted were White House staffers, U.S. senators, British parliamentarians, and government officials critical of Beijing’s policies. They also attacked lawmakers, academics, journalists, and defense contractors.

The defendants, identified as Ni Gaobin, Weng Ming, Cheng Feng, Peng Yaowen, Sun Xiaohui, Xiong Wang, and Zhao Guangzong, are believed to reside in China. Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco characterized the global hacking operation as an attempt to stifle critics of the Chinese regime, compromise government institutions, and pilfer trade secrets.

WHAT THEY DID

The indicted defendants played crucial roles within this cyber conspiracy, involving the testing and exploitation of malware, as well as managing the infrastructure associated with the intrusions. For instance:

Cheng Feng, Sun Xiaohui, Weng Ming, Xiong Wang, and Zhao Guangzong were actively engaged in testing and exploiting malware, including the malicious software used in numerous intrusions.

Cheng and Ni Gaobin were responsible for managing critical infrastructure linked to the intrusions, including a domain name associated with a command-and-control server. This server gained access to at least 59 unique victim computers, including those belonging to a leading provider of 5G network equipment in the United States, an aerospace and defense research corporation in Alabama, and a professional support services company based in Maryland.

Sun and Weng operated infrastructure utilized in intrusions targeting a U.S. company recognized for its public opinion polls. Additionally, Sun and Peng Yaowen conducted research and reconnaissance on several other U.S. entities that later became victims of the APT31 Group’s intrusion campaigns.

Ni and Zhao were involved in sending malicious emails containing malware to dissidents within the People’s Republic of China, particularly targeting Hong Kong legislators and democracy advocates. They also directed their efforts towards U.S. entities focused on issues related to the People’s Republic of China.

American officials disclosed that the decade-long cyber spying campaign extended its reach to encompass defense contractors, dissidents, and various U.S. companies, including those in the steel, energy, and apparel sectors. Additionally, leading providers of 5G mobile telephone equipment and wireless technology were among the targets. Even the spouses of senior U.S. officials and lawmakers were reportedly subjected to hacking attempts.

U.S. prosecutors charged seven alleged Chinese hackers, alleging that their activities resulted in the compromise of millions of Americans’ work accounts, personal emails, online storage, and telephone call records. British officials echoed these accusations, attributing cyber intrusions to APT31 and another Chinese spy group responsible for breaching Britain’s electoral watchdog, affecting millions more individuals in the United Kingdom.

Chinese diplomats in Britain and the U.S. denied the allegations, dismissing them as baseless fabrications. Concurrent with the charges, both countries imposed sanctions on a firm purportedly connected to the Ministry of State Security’s hacking endeavors.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions on Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology, along with two Chinese nationals, condemning China’s audacious efforts to undermine cybersecurity and target Americans and their innovation.

FBI Director Christopher Wray underscored the gravity of the situation, emphasizing China’s persistent and brazen attempts to compromise cybersecurity and subvert national interests.

The revelations come amidst escalating tensions between Beijing and Washington over cybersecurity issues, with Western intelligence agencies increasingly sounding the alarm on alleged Chinese state-sponsored hacking activities. Notably, China has also accused Western entities of engaging in similar cyber espionage, pointing fingers at the U.S. National Security Agency’s purported infiltration of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies.

The indictment further highlighted numerous unnamed victims worldwide, including a U.S. presidential campaign in 2020 and an American firm specializing in public opinion research during the 2018 midterm elections. Analysts underscored the significance of political organizations as lucrative targets for gathering intelligence, citing geopolitical insights and vast data repositories as prime motivators for cyber espionage groups like APT31.

Baburajan Kizhakedath

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