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Report suggests Chinese groups ramped up digital attacks on US as virus spread beyond China

Chris White on March 25, 2020

A Chinese group began a concerted digital cyber attack against the United States in late January as coronavirus began spreading West from Wuhan, China, a U.S. cybersecurity firm said Wednesday.

A hacking group called “APT41” began targeting on Jan. 20 more than 75 companies involved in manufacturing, media, nonprofit work and health care, cybersecurity firm FireEye said, according to Reuters. All of the targeted organizations were FireEye clients, according to the report.

It is “one of the broadest campaigns by a Chinese cyber espionage actor we have observed in recent years,” the report noted.

FireEye Security Architect Christopher Glyer cautioned against speculating about a primary motive. There are “multiple possible explanations” for the broad attack, he said in the report, noting that tensions between China and the United States are at an all-time high.

The action is unusual nonetheless, FireEye’s head of analysis, John Hultquist, told Reuters.

“This broad action is a departure from that norm,” he said after noting that China typically engages in more focused, targeted attacks.

APT41 exploited flaws in Cisco and Citrix’s software in an attempt to break into scores of companies’ networks in the United States and Canada, among a host of other countries, FireEye noted. Cisco told Reuters it fixed the flaws.

The coronavirus outbreak began in late November 2019 and expanded soon thereafter even as China told the World Health Organization in January that the virus was not transmittable to humans. The communist nation also worked to tamp down reports about the virus’s overall impact.

Chinese authorities disciplined the first doctors in Wuhan, China, who tried to warn people about the virus, which has killed more than 17,000 people globally. China reportedly did not include more than 43,000 people who tested positive in the nation’s official tally of confirmed cases.

Chinese officials are also suggesting that the United States’ army was responsible for injecting the virus into China.

“When did Patient Zero appear in the United States? How many people are infected? What is the name of the hospital?” Lijian Zhao, deputy director of China’s Foreign Ministry Information Department, said in a March 12 tweet. “It may be that the US military brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”

The National Security Council has not responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about the nature of FireEye’s report.

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