The Department of Justice has charged five Chinese citizens with hacks targeting more than 100 companies and institutions in the United States and elsewhere, including social media and video game companies, as well as universities and telecommunications providers, officials said Wednesday.
The five defendants remain fugitives, but prosecutors said two Malaysian businessmen accused of conspiring with the alleged hackers to profit off the attacks on video game companies were arrested in that country this week and face extradition proceedings.
The indictments announced Wednesday are part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to call out cybercrimes by China. In July, prosecutors accused hackers of working with the Chinese government to target firms developing vaccines for the coronavirus and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of intellectual property and trade secrets from companies across the world.
Officials say the hacking scheme was wide-ranging and targeted various business sectors and academia and was carried out by a group known as APT41. They say it resembled other hacking schemes by China that are carried out at the behest of the government, or at least with its approval.
One of the five defendants told a colleague that he was very close to the Chinese Ministry of State Security and would be protected “unless something very big happens,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who criticised the Chinese government for what he said was a failure by Beijing to disrupt hacking crimes.
“We know the Chinese authorities to be at least as able as the law enforcement authorities here and in like-minded states to enforce laws against computer intrusions. But they choose not to,” Rosen said.