Seven Chinese nationals accused of leading ‘global hacking operation’ charged in the US


The U.S. Department of Justice has unsealed an indictment that has alleged the Chinese government of running a sustained hacking campaign on U.S. citizens.

Seven nationals from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been charged for their role in what the U.S. government has described as a “prolific global hacking operation” that targeted officials, individuals, and businesses around the globe, including in the United States.

The indictment charging the individuals was unsealed March 25 by the Department of Justice, and names the defendants as Ni Gaobin, 38; Weng Ming, 37; Cheng Feng, 34; Peng Yaowen, 38; Sun Xiaohui, 38; Xiong Wang, 35; and Zhao Guangzong, 38. According to the unsealed indictment, all the nationals are believed to reside in the People’s Republic of China.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the hacking campaign led by the individuals in the indictment, whom the government alleges are members of a PRC-backed cyberespionage team known as the APT31 Group, sent “over 10,000 malicious emails, impacting thousands of victims, across multiple continents.”

Among those targeted by the group, according to the indictment, were journalists, corporations, and political officials critical of the PRC regime.

Monaco, in statements included with a Department of Justice press release, said the hacking was conducted to repress critics, compromise government institutions, and steal trade secrets.

The Department of Justice alleged that the individuals named in the indictment carried out hacking operations beginning in 2010.

Efforts of the group included sending emails that “appeared to be from prominent news outlets or journalists,” which contained hidden tracking links, according to the Department of Justice.

“If the recipient simply opened the email, information about the recipient, including the recipient’s location, internet protocol (IP) addresses, network schematics, and specific devices used to access the pertinent email accounts, was transmitted to a server controlled by the defendants and those working with them,” stated a Department of Justice summary of the alleged hacking operations.

The indictment further alleged that members of the APT31 Group targeted government officials across the world with malicious tracking links and cited an incident in 2021, when the Department of Justice said 43 United Kingdom parliamentary accounts were targeted due to their association with parliamentarians that supported the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a pro-democracy group opposed to the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule.

The indictment also alleged that officials from a litany of U.S. departments were targeted, including campaign staff for the Democratic and Republican parties ahead of 2020 elections.

American companies targeted by the group included “service providers who managed the computer networks and security for other companies, a leading provider of 5G network equipment, and a leading global provider of wireless technology, among many others,” a summary of the indictment stated.

The official charges levied at the Chinese nationals named include conspiracy to commit computer intrusions and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the Department of Justice “will not tolerate efforts by the Chinese government to intimidate Americans.”

“This case serves as a reminder of the ends to which the Chinese government is willing to go to target and intimidate its critics, including launching malicious cyber operations aimed at threatening the national security of the United States and our allies,” Garland said.

This article was originally published on Total Telecom’s sister website, Broadband Communities

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