U.S. prosecutors unsealed an indictment on Thursday that charged two Chinese with computer hacking attacks on a wide range of American government agencies and corporations including the Navy and the space agency NASA.
The announcement was made by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York, Director Christopher A. Wray of the FBI, Director Dermot F. O’Reilly of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) of the U.S. Department of Defense, and Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.
The defendants - Zhu Hu, aka Afwar, aka CVNX, aka Alayos, aka Godkiller; and Zhang Shilong, aka Baobeilong, aka Zhang Jianguo, aka Atreexp - were members of the APT 10 hacking group who acted in association with the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s Tianjin State Security Bureau and engaged in global computer intrusions for more than a decade, according to the U.S. prosecutors. The defendants worked for a company in China called Huaying Haitai Science and Technology Development Company (Huaying Haitai).
Through their involvement with the APT10 Group, from at least in or about 2006 up to and including in or about 2018, Zhu and Zhang conducted global campaigns of computer intrusions targeting, among other data, intellectual property and confidential business and technological information at managed service providers (MSPs), which are companies that remotely manage the information technology infrastructure of businesses and governments around the world, more than 45 technology companies in at least a dozen U.S. states, and U.S. government agencies. The APT10 Group targeted a diverse array of commercial activity, industries and technologies, including aviation, satellite and maritime technology, industrial factory automation, automotive supplies, laboratory instruments, banking and finance, telecommunications and consumer electronics, computer processor technology, information technology services, packaging, consulting, medical equipment, healthcare, biotechnology, pharmaceutical manufacturing, mining, and oil and gas exploration and production. Among other things, Zhu and Zhang registered IT infrastructure that the APT10 Group used for its intrusions and engaged in illegal hacking operations.
“The indictment alleges that the defendants were part of a group that hacked computers in at least a dozen countries and gave China’s intelligence service access to sensitive business information,” said Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. “This is outright cheating and theft, and it gives China an unfair advantage at the expense of law-abiding businesses and countries that follow the international rules in return for the privilege of participating in the global economic system.”
According to the allegations in the indictment, Zhu, Zhang, and their co-conspirators in the APT10 Group successfully obtained unauthorized access to computers providing services to or belonging to victim companies located in at least 12 countries, including Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Zhu and Zhang are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.
The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by the U.S. Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the assigned judge.
The timing of the action may further escalate tensions between Washington and Beijing after the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, in Canada at the request of the United States.
The action also comes just weeks after the United States and China agreed to talks aimed at resolving an ongoing trade dispute that threatens global economic growth.