State-Sponsored Chinese Hackers Exposed In Shocking Report

The US and British authorities have announced a series of criminal charges and fines against hackers connected to the Chinese government, alleging that they conducted a massive, state-backed operation targeting companies, pro-democracy activists, US officials, journalists, and the UK’s election watchdog.

The program, which began in 2010, was allegedly launched to slander Chinese government opponents, steal trade secrets from American companies, and eavesdrop on and follow prominent political leaders. The hacking organization responsible for the operation is known as APT31.

Seven hackers, all thought to reside in China, were charged by the U.S. Justice Department. The British government sanctioned two defendants for a data breach that may have allowed the Chinese to access the Electoral Commission’s database containing the names and addresses of tens of millions of British voters. The cyber-intrusion effort included distributing over 10,000 emails to various recipients worldwide that were spoofs of well-known journalists but included malware.

When victims opened the malicious emails, tracking software was installed, giving the hackers access to their location, IP addresses, and email-using devices. Based on their location data, the hackers compromised other devices, including home routers, those of high-ranking U.S. government officials, politicians, and election campaign staff from both major U.S. political parties.

Members of both parties’ senates, senior justice department officials’ spouses, political strategists, and international political personalities critical of China’s government, including pro-democracy advocacy group members, were among the targets. Other government officials and agencies that fell victim to the cyberattacks included the White House and various federal agencies.

The British government called on China’s ambassador to explain its behavior, and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated before the announcement that countries should not “smear” others without proof.

Over the years, U.S. authorities have filed several criminal prosecutions against Chinese government-affiliated hackers, worried that Beijing may interfere in presidential politics and that the Chinese government is engaging in influence operations. In the end, China did not meddle in the 2020 election and “considered but did not deploy” influence operations to sway the result.