US authorities have indicted two Chinese men with cyber espionage charges on Thursday last week for allegedly stealing corporate data and commercial secrets from companies across 12 different countries.
The indictment referenced Zhu Hua and Zhang Shillong, who prosecutors said were acting “in association with the Chinese Ministry of State Security”.
According to the unsealed indictment, both individuals were working for the Advanced Persistent Threat 10 hacking group (the APT10 Group) and for another a company called Huaying Haitai.
Both men, officials said, were accused of hacking into computer systems and committing wire fraud and identity theft.
The hackers reportedly infiltrated the computers of more than 45 companies in 12 states, including a number of companies within the UK and the US.
The hacking group also broke into computer systems connected to the US Navy and were able to steal data from more than 100,000 US Navy personnel.
The hackers used a technique known as ‘spear phishing’ to install malicious Microsoft Word documents, the indictment read.
Economic competitiveness between China and the U.S.
“China’s goal, simply put, is to replace the US as the world’s largest global superpower”, FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “No country poses a broader, more severe long-term threat” to the United States than China, Wray added.
US and British authorities said that China had violated its 2015 agreement to crack down on cyber espionage for military or commercial purposes.
According to an Economic Times report, US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Kristjen Nielsen said in a joint statement that the hacks “present a very real threat to the economic competitiveness of companies in the United States and around the globe”.
“We strongly urge China to abide by its commitment to act responsibly in cyberspace and reiterate that the United States will take appropriate measures to defend our interests”.
China’s response to cyber espionage accusations
China has responded to the allegations by denying the charges.
According to the Times report, Hua Chunying, the spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said: “The Chinese government has never participated in or supported anyone in any form in stealing trade secrets.”
She also accused the US of indulging in cyber espionage against China and other countries.
“For a long time, it has long been an open secret for the relevant departments of the United States to conduct large-scale and organised network theft and monitoring of the activities of foreign governments, enterprises, and individuals,” she said.
“The US side has blamed China for its unwarranted nickname in the name of “cyber stealing”. It is purely a slap in the face and deceives itself. China will never accept it,” she said.
The latest charges add to the current on-going trade tension between the US and China.