The U.S. Department of Justice has indicted two Chinese men accused of being part of a sophisticated, state-sponsored hacking campaign targeting governments and companies across the globe.
The men have been accused of being part of a hacking group known as Advanced Persistent Threat 10, or APT10. That group, affiliated with China’s intelligence agency, have allegedly stolen information from at least 45 U.S. tech firms and government agencies, The Washington Post reported.
Those charges were revealed after the DOJ unsealed the indictments against the two men on Thursday. The court filing indicates that the two Chinese nationals, Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, worked for a private company but in association with the Chinese Ministry of State Security.
U.S. officials say the primary purpose was to steal trade secrets and intellectual property that the Chinese government later gave to Chinese firms — giving an unfair global advantage to local companies.
In addition to the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the U.K. have also formally accused China of hacking government agencies and local firms. The DOJ indictment says that APT10 hacked entities in at least 12 countries.
The group first started their sophisticated hacking campaign in 2006 and use an evolving set of tactics to select targets, bypass network defenses and steal sensitive data, the DOJ said.
All in all, government documents indicate that at least 90 computers were remotely accessed and hundreds of gigabytes of data were stolen.
Some of APT10’s targets in the U.S. reportedly include NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center and a Department of Energy National Laboratory.
Government officials also stated that seven companies involved in aviation, space and satellite technology and three communication companies were targeted. According to U.S. officials, those are industries related to “Made in China 2025” — a Chinese government plan to extend economic influence globally.
China and the U.S. reached an agreement in 2015 to ostensibly put an end to state-sponsored commercial cyber espionage. U.S. officials say that China has violated the terms of that agreement.
Even beyond that, the indictments come at a particularly tense period in U.S.-China relations. While there has been a lull in the trade war between the two countries, the U.S. recently worked with Canada to arrest the CFO of Huawei.
“China’s goal, simply put, is to replace the US 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.
Of course, the two indicted Chinese nationals live in China, so there isn’t much chance that they will be tried in the U.S.
“We hope the day will come when those defendants face justice under the rule of law in an American courtroom,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a press conference.