The US Justice Department has charged five Chinese residents and two Malaysian businessmen over a wide-ranging hacking effort that allegedly targeted everything from video games to pro-democracy activists.
- Beijing has denied responsibility for hacking as US indictments mount
- Two Malaysian businessmen were charged with conspiring with two of the digital spies
- Microsoft had developed measures to block the hackers
Federal prosecutors said the Chinese nationals have been charged with hacking more than 100 companies in the United States and abroad.
Their alleged targets include software development companies, computer manufacturers, telecommunications providers, social media companies, gaming firms, non-profits, universities, and think-tanks, as well as foreign governments and politicians and civil society figures in Hong Kong.
US officials stopped short of alleging the hackers were working on behalf of Beijing, but in a statement Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen expressed exasperation with Chinese authorities, claiming they were — at the very least — turning a blind eye to cyber-espionage.
“We know the Chinese authorities to be at least as able as the law enforcement authorities here and in likeminded states to enforce laws against computer intrusions,” Mr Rosen said.
He further alleged one of the Chinese defendants had boasted to a colleague that he was “very close” to China’s Ministry of State Security and would be protected “unless something very big happens”.
“No responsible government knowingly shelters cyber criminals that target victims worldwide in acts of rank theft,” Mr Rosen said.
Beijing has repeatedly denied responsibility for hacking in the face of a mounting pile of indictments from US authorities.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Malaysian businessmen indicted
US prosecutors also indicted two Malaysian businessmen — Wong Ong Hua, 46, and Ling Yang Ching, 32 — who were charged with conspiring with two of the digital spies to profit from computer intrusions targeting video game companies in the United States, France, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
The Justice Department alleged the pair operated through a Malaysian firm called SEA Gamer Mall.
US Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said the businessmen were in custody but were likely to fight extradition.
The Justice Department said it has seized hundreds of accounts, servers, domain names and “dead drop” web pages used by the alleged hackers to help siphon data from their victims.
The Department said Microsoft had developed measures to block the hackers, and that the company’s actions “were a significant part” of the overall US effort to neutralise them.