US, UK allege China-backed global hacking scheme

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U.S. prosecutors indicted two Chinese nationals linked to China's Ministry of State Security intelligence agency on charges of stealing confidential data from American government agencies and businesses around the world.

The U.S. justice Department had accused the hacker group APT10 and the Chinese Ministry of state security on Thursday in at least twelve countries - including Germany - mass data from government agencies and companies stole.

USA authorities on Thursday alleged that the two worked in association with China's ministry of state security, in an operation that targeted intellectual property and corporate secrets to give Chinese companies an unfair competitive advantage.

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". The FBI said hundreds of gigabytes of sensitive data were stolen from companies in a diverse range of industries such as finance, manufacturing, healthcare, biotechnology, and oil and gas.

A case filed in October marked the first time that a Chinese Ministry of State Security officer was extradited to the USA to stand trial.

The WA resources industry has always been a target of similar hacking attempts, aimed at accessing details of production levels at miners - big and small - to give the Chinese state-owned companies that buy WA's minerals an edge in contract negotiations.

"China's goal, simply put, is to replace the United States as the world's leading superpower, and they're using illegal methods to get there", said FBI Director Christopher Wray during a press conference Thursday.

"The US side fabricated facts out of thin air, made groundless accusations against China on the issue of cyber security and "sued" the two Chinese personnel on the pretext of cyber theft", Hua said.

Yuan Zheng, an expert in China-US relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Washington was using the charges against Zhu and Zhang as a bargaining chip for the upcoming trade talks. However this comes as increasing pressure is applied against China from the Five Eyes intelligence nations, which includes New Zealand.

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Hampton said the Chinese hacking activity was "counter to the commitment all APEC economies, including China, made in November 2016".

Thursday's announcement was the latest in a series of Justice Department indictments targeting cyberespionage from Beijing.

"It has always been an open secret that USA federal agencies hacked and monitored foreign governments, companies and individuals", Hua said. However, the Trump administration accused China earlier this year of having violated that agreement.

The indictment filed in federal court in Manhattan describes how in recent years, as government agencies and corporations have shifted data to cloud computing providers and services including email and collaboration tools to tech service providers, the Stone Panda hackers followed, typically stealing the log-in credentials of system administrators in order to reach coveted proprietary data of clients.

The Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. Justice Department of "fabricating" the charges against the defendants and claimed the United States is the party actually guilty of cyber-espionage.

Another news agency went as far as to point out that the U.S. has hacked China in the past, and the Chinese government is only now finding out the extent of those hacks.

"It is organised more like a corporation than a gang", one United Kingdom official says, adding that British intelligence has the highest level of confidence in their assessment of who was responsible.

Political tensions between China, Canada and the USA have been escalating after Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei, was arrested in Vancouver at Washington's request.

More than a dozen U.S. allies are also expected to condemn China, but that's not remotely enough.