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The Justice Department announced on Monday that seven Chinese nationals have been charged with carrying out cyber-attacks on behalf of the Chinese government under the cover of a Wuhan tech company for over a decade. The indictment alleges that the defendants were involved in a vast hacking operation that targeted data from U.S. officials, journalists, academics, American companies, and political dissidents in America and abroad. The operation reportedly involved sending over 10,000 malicious emails and impacted thousands of victims across multiple continents. Additionally, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister reported that a Chinese government-affiliated group had hacked into the UK’s electoral registry to steal voters’ personal information.

The Biden administration’s announcement comes amid increasing concerns about Chinese government-sponsored cyber-attacks targeting American interests. U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland stated that the Justice Department will not tolerate Chinese government efforts to intimidate Americans, silence dissidents protected by U.S. laws, or steal from American businesses. The indictment also reveals that the U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company, a company alleged to be a front for the Chinese Ministry of State Security involved in malicious cyber operations.

The indictment alleges that between 2015 and 2018, the defendants sent thousands of malicious emails to high-ranking U.S. government officials, journalists, and political figures. The emails were designed to appear as legitimate news articles from prominent American journalists, containing embedded tracking links. Upon opening the emails, recipients unknowingly transmitted information about their location, network schematics, and devices to servers controlled by the hackers. The targets included individuals at the White House, members of Congress, government officials, and political strategists, as well as government contractors and campaign staff.

The defendants also reportedly targeted individuals critical of the People’s Republic of China government, including members of the Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China. The indictment alleges that the Hubei State Security Department created Wuhan XRZ in 2010 to conduct computer intrusion activities. The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated two defendants, Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin, for their roles in cyber operations targeting critical infrastructure sectors in the U.S., endangering national security. The U.S. Department of State offered rewards for information on the defendants, their organization, or any associated individuals or entities.

The U.S. government is focused on disrupting malicious cyber activities and protecting citizens and critical infrastructure from cyber threats. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson stated that the U.S. will continue to utilize a whole-of-government approach to expose malicious cyber networks and safeguard against threats. The U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has implemented matching sanctions in coordination with the U.S. government. The joint efforts aim to counter the dangerous and irresponsible actions of cyber actors and safeguard national security.

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