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DOJ charges Chinese hackers in attacks on over 100 U.S. companies

Five Chinese hackers have been charged by the Department of Justice (DOJ) with fraud, money laundering and identity theft associated with the “hacking [of] over 100 companies in the United States, including tech companies, game makers, universities and think tanks,” the DOJ announced today according to TechCrunch.

The men are part of of China’s APT41 effort that uses hackers like militia, employing them using front companies to spy for China.

“The indictments said that the hackers worked for a front company, Chengdu 404, which purports to be a network security company but prosecutors say was a cover for the hackers,” said the tech publication.

One cybersecurity official said that the APT41 group is one of the most sophisticated cyber espionage units currently operating.

“This is a unique actor, who carries out global cyber espionage while simultaneously pursuing a criminal venture. Their activity traces back to 2012 when individual members of APT41 conducted primarily financially motivated operations focused on the video game industry before expanding into traditional espionage, most likely directed by the state. APT41’s ability to successfully blend their criminal and espionage operations is remarkable,” said John Hultquist, senior director of analysis at Mandiant.

Two Malaysian men have been arrested in the investigation so far, but the Chinese nationals remain free in China.

The cybercriminals operate at the nexus between corrupt officialdom, the Chinese mafia, the Communist Party and state security.  They use the profits off of cybercrimes to cover their expenses, gain wealth and are given a free-hand by Chinese authorities as long as their crimes don’t affect Chinese state interests.

Chinese authorities have responded to the indictments by accusing the U.S. of not respecting China.

“We urge the US to take an objective & rational approach to cybersecurity,” said the official Twitter account of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “To address cyber attacks, it should cooperate & have dialogues with other countries on the basis of mutual respect.”

The U.S., however, looks at the fight between China and the U.S. in cyberspace as an area of key concern, as China uses the internet in every facet of its fight to undermine U.S. interests.

“The Department of Justice has used every tool available to disrupt the illegal computer intrusions and cyber-attacks by these Chinese citizens,” said U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen according to the BBC.

“Regrettably, the Chinese Communist Party has chosen a different path of making China safe for cybercriminals so long as they attack computers outside China and steal intellectual property helpful to China.”

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