US’ cyber hacking claims fabricated, says Beijing as Chinese duo face charges

US’ cyber hacking claims fabricated, says Beijing as Chinese duo face charges

Kerry Wise
December 23, 2018

China's Foreign Ministry said today that it resolutely opposed "slanderous accusations" from Washington after two Chinese nationals said to be linked to Beijing intelligence were charged with stealing confidential data from American government agencies.

China has accused the US of "fabricating facts" after it charged two Chinese hackers with carrying out an extensive campaign to steal trade secrets and other information on behalf of Beijing's main intelligence agency.

Zhu and Zhang are allegedly linked to a group of hackers known to investigators simply as APT 10, which acted on behalf of China's ministry of state security to carry out a malicious cyber campaign known as Cloud Hopper in Europe, Asia and the USA, according to details released simultaneously in Washington and London.

Starting in 2014, prosecutors said, the group infiltrated computers and networks of service providers, which manage information technology for businesses and governments worldwide, in an effort to steal "intellectual property and confidential business data on a global scale".

Prosecutors charged Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong in hacking attacks against the US Navy, the space agency NASA and the Energy Department and dozens of companies.

The group is said to have taken "gigabytes of sensitive data" from firms involved in the fields of aviation, space and satellite, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas exploration, communications, computer processor and maritime, it said.

Among other targets, the hackers allegedly infiltrated Pentagon networks and stole personal data, including dates of birth and Social Security numbers of more than 100,000 sailors and other Navy personnel.

"China's goal simply put is to replace the the world's leading superpower and they are using illegal methods to get there", said Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray.

In a written statement issued earlier yesterday, she said that the United States was "fabricating facts".

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The statement came after the US Justice Department announced criminal indictments on Thursday against two alleged hackers associated with the Chinese government.

The move seriously violates the basic norms governing worldwide relations, seriously damages China-US cooperation and is of a very bad nature, she said. "If our officials in China were indicted, they would not stop their work", he said at an event in Washington last month.

The UK government said it was joining allies in holding the Chinese government responsible for a global campaign targeting commercial secrets.

The mere announcement of charges is likely to affect public perception of China, said James Gong (龔鈺), a cybersecurity senior associate at the Herbert Smith Freehills law firm in Beijing.

China and the U.S.

Dr Robert Williams, executive director of Yale Law School's Paul Tsai China Centre, said the allegations added considerably to a growing body of evidence that China had not dialled back its commercial cyber espionage in the way U.S. officials had hoped it would after the 2015 Obama-Xi agreement.

FBI Director Christopher Wray with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, overnight. Those efforts have continued even after Beijing committed in 2015 to halting the theft of trade secrets following a first-of-its-kind indictment that accused Chinese hackers of stealing corporate data from brand-name US companies. It was recently revealed that the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network had cooked up a campaign to kill of Chinese tech company Huawei, which has always been suspected of being under the thumb of the Chinese Government.

The charges come amid a trade war between U.S. and China and the arrest earlier this month of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.