The UK is ‘deeply concerned’ over evidence that China engaged in “malicious” cyber attacks on coronavirus labs.
It comes after two Chinese men were arrested for allegedly targeting a British artificial intelligence firm as part of a hacking campaign lasting more than ten years.
The US accused Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi of hacking into hundreds of computer systems of companies, governments and organisations across the world, stealing “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of trade secrets, intellectual property and other valuable business information”.
Prosecutors say among their targets was a Massachusetts biotech firm researching possible cures for Covid-19.
They also allegedly hacked a Maryland firm less than a week after it said it was researching the virus.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “I am deeply concerned by the evidence announced yesterday that China is engaged in malicious cyber attacks against commercial, medical and academic institutions, including those working to respond to the coronavirus pandemic”
American prosecutors claim the pair – who met at university – operated from China both for their own gain and with the assistance of and for the benefit of the Chinese government’s Ministry of State Security.
The unnamed company is referred to as a “UK artificial intelligence and cancer research firm” which is believed to have had its network compromised in April this year.
It is listed in court documents among 25 known cases, largely from the US but also including targets in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Sweden.
Victims range across various industries, from pharmaceuticals and defence to educational and gaming software.
More recently, the defendants probed for vulnerabilities in computer networks of companies developing coronavirus vaccines, testing technology, and treatments, the US Department of Justice said.
According to the indictment, one of tactics used by the duo centred on software and web vulnerabilities, some of which were newly announced, meaning companies would not have enough time to install a fix.
The charges come amid heightened tensions between China and the West, with the UK recently suspending an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, as well as extending an arms embargo to the region and imposing a ban on Chinese firm Huawei’s 5G equipment.
John C Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security in the US, said: “China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cyber criminals in exchange for those criminals being ‘on call’ to work for the benefit of the state, here to feed the Chinese Communist Party’s insatiable hunger for American and other non-Chinese companies’ hard-earned intellectual property, including Covid-19 research.”