Millions of Americans implicated in Chinese hacking conspiracy – U.S

image source, US Department of Justice

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Seven Chinese men have been charged with executing a widespread “malicious” cyber attack campaign

The Justice Department and the FBI said Monday that the online accounts of millions of Americans were caught up in a “sinister” Chinese hacking plot that targeted U.S. officials.

Seven Chinese nationals have been charged with involvement in the cyber attack campaign.

They are alleged to have been involved in hacking activities for 14 years.

The US State Department has announced a reward of up to $10m (£8m) for information on seven people.

The seven sent more than 10,000 “malicious emails that affected thousands of victims on multiple continents,” in what the Justice Department called “a prolific global hacking operation” backed by China's government.

“Today's announcement exposes China's continued and bold efforts to undermine our nation's cyber security and target Americans and our intelligence,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“As long as China continues to target the United States and our allies, the FBI will continue to send a clear message that cyber espionage is unacceptable, and we will relentlessly pursue those who threaten our nation's security and prosperity,” he added.

The allegations come after the UK government accused China of being responsible for “malicious cyber campaigns” targeting the country's electoral commission and politicians. Diplomats at the Chinese embassy in London said they “strongly oppose” the allegations and called them “completely fabricated and malicious slander”.

The New Zealand Herald reported that the New Zealand government said its parliament had been targeted by China-backed hackers.

A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington DC said that “without proper evidence, the relevant countries jumped to an unnecessary conclusion” and “made baseless allegations”.

In the indictment laying charges against seven Chinese men, US prosecutors said the hacking resulted in confirmed or possible compromise of work accounts, personal emails, online storage and phone call records.

The emails they are accused of sending to the targets appear to be from mainstream news outlets or journalists with hidden surveillance links. If a person opens an email sent to them, their information – including their location and IP addresses – is sent to a server allegedly controlled by the seven defendants.

The information was used to enable “direct and sophisticated targeted hacking, such as compromising recipients' home routers and other electronic devices,” US prosecutors said.

They have also reportedly targeted foreign dissidents worldwide, targeting US government officials working in the White House and US government departments, and sometimes their spouses.

In one example cited by the Justice Department, the men “successfully compromised Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and their associates with similar malware in Hong Kong, the US and other foreign locations”.

US companies were also hacked, targeting the defense, information technology, telecommunications, manufacturing and trading, finance, consulting, legal and research sectors.

Targeted companies include defense contractors that provide services to the US military and “a leading provider of 5G network equipment,” the Justice Department said.

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