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Justice Department indicts 4 as White House blames China for cyberattacks

Attorney General Merrick Garland departs after speaking during an event at the Justice Department on June 15. the Justice Department announced indictments against four Chinese nationals for illegal cyber activities on Monday. Photo by Win McNamee/UPI
Attorney General Merrick Garland departs after speaking during an event at the Justice Department on June 15. the Justice Department announced indictments against four Chinese nationals for illegal cyber activities on Monday. Photo by Win McNamee/UPI | License Photo

July 19 (UPI) -- The Justice Department announced Monday that a federal grand jury has indicted four Chinese nationals with a widespread cyberattack campaign that targeted dozens of companies, colleges and government agencies from 2011 to 2018.

The indictments come as the White House and its allies charged China with a pattern of major cyberactivities that threaten their economic and national security.

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The Justice Department indictments accused Zhu Yunmin, Wu Shurong, Ding Xiaoyang and Cheng Qingmin of targeting numerous industries with cyberattacks, including aerospace/aviation, biomedical, defense, healthcare, manufacturing, maritime, research institutes and transportation.

The department said the four, who remain at large, were acting on behalf of the People's Republic of China.

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"The conspiracy's hacking campaign targeted victims in the United States, Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom," a Justice Department said.

The White House called the wide-ranging cyber activities "irresponsible" and "inconsistent with its stated objective of being seen as a responsible leader in the world."

"Today, countries around the world are making it clear that concerns regarding the [People's Republic of China's] malicious cyber activities are bringing them together to call out those activities, promote network defense and cybersecurity, and act to disrupt threats to our economies and national security," the White House said.

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"Our allies and partners are a tremendous source of strength and a unique American advantage, and our collective approach to cyber threat information sharing, defense and mitigation help hold countries like China to account," the White House said.

In a separate statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said U.S. officials confirmed China exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange Server in a massive cyber-espionage operation, compromising thousands of computers and networks mostly in the private sector.

"Responsible states do not indiscriminately compromise global network security nor knowingly harbor cybercriminals -- let alone sponsor or collaborate with them," Blinken said in the statement.

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"These contract hackers cost governments and businesses billions of dollars in stolen intellectual property, ransom payments, and cybersecurity mitigation efforts, all while the MSS had them on its payroll."

Some of the initiatives the White House announced included improving cybersecurity networks to specifically repel ransomware and similar attacks, have the National Security Agency and the FBI release and advisory for companies and making the moderation of federal networks a priority.

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