The Justice Department on Tuesday accused two Chinese hackers of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of trade secrets from companies across the world and more recently targeting firms developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, per the AP. The indictment says the hackers in recent months had researched vulnerabilities in the computer networks of companies publicly known for their work in developing vaccines and treatments. The indictment includes charges of trade secret theft and wire fraud conspiracy against the hackers, who federal prosecutors say stole information not only for themselves but also that they knew would be of interest and value to the Chinese government. There was no immediate indication from the indictment that the hackers had successfully obtained any COVID-19 research, despite efforts to snoop on the companies.
But prosecutors say the defendants in January conducted reconnaissance on the computer network of a Massachusetts biotech firm known to be researching a potential vaccine and searched for vulnerabilities on the network of a Maryland firm less than a week after it said it was conducting similar scientific work. Reuters identifies the Chinese nationals as Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, and say they "participated in a multiyear cyberespionage campaign that stole weapons designs, drug information, software source code and more." The Chinese Embassy has yet to comment. (Last week, authorities in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom accused a hacking group with links to Russian intelligence with trying to target research on the disease.)