The U.S. Justice Department has charged two Chinese citizens with carrying out an extensive hacking campaign to steal corporate data and commercial secrets from entities in 12 countries, including Canada.
An indictment was unsealed Thursday against Zhu Hua and Zhang Shillong, who prosecutors said were acting on behalf of China’s main intelligence agency. According to the charges, both were members of the group Advanced Persistent Threat 10 and worked for a company called Huaying Haitai.
Court papers filed in Manhattan Federal Court in New York City allege the hackers were able to breach the computers of more than 45 companies and agencies in a dozen countries. The victims were in a variety of industries — including aviation, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and natural resources — and involved NASA and the personal information of more than 100,000 U.S. navy personnel.
“China’s goal, simply put, is to replace the US as the world’s leading superpower,” said FBI head Christopher Wray. “We’re talking about state-sponsored actors engaged in illegal behaviour.”
‘Hundreds of gigabytes’ breached
Prosecutors charge that the hackers were able to steal “hundreds of gigabytes” of data.
Court papers say they hacked computer service providers to gain access to the networks of businesses and governments in order to steal intellectual property and business data.
The indictment was to be announced Thursday by Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
“We want China to cease its illegal cyberactivities and honour its commitment to the international community, but the evidence suggests that China may not intend to abide by its promises,” Rosenstein said.
“There is no free pass to violate American laws merely because they do so under the protection of a foreign state.”
The RCMP had no immediate comment on the U.S. charges or the allegations involving Canadian companies.
Last week, officials from the Justice Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security testified to the Senate judiciary committee that China is working to steal trade secrets and intellectual property from U.S. companies in order to harm America’s economy and further its own development.
Chinese espionage efforts have become “the most severe counterintelligence threat facing our country today,” Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, told the committee.
In the last several months, the Justice Department has filed charges against several Chinese intelligence officials and hackers. A case filed in October marked the first time that a Chinese Ministry of State Security officer was extradited to the United States to stand trial.