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US, Allies Accuse China of Working with Criminal Hackers

In this file illustration photo, computer code is seen on a screen above a Chinese flag. Image created on July 12, 2017. (REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration/File Photo/File Photo)
In this file illustration photo, computer code is seen on a screen above a Chinese flag. Image created on July 12, 2017. (REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration/File Photo/File Photo)
US, Allies Accuse China of Working with Criminal Hackers
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The United States and its major allies have accused China of working with criminal hackers to carry out major computer attacks worldwide.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Monday, that China had shown “irresponsible, disruptive, and destabilizing behavior in cyberspace.” Such activities present “a major threat to our economic and national security,” he added.

Joining the U.S. in condemning China’s actions were NATO, the European Union, Britain, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The group blamed China for a cyberattack in March that affected tens of thousands of organizations using Microsoft Exchange servers. Blinken said the U.S. had uncovered evidence that the Microsoft attack was carried out by “cyber actors” linked to China’s Ministry of State Security.

The U.S. and the other countries said the Ministry of State Security had employed criminal contract hackers to carry out attacks.

Officials said the activities included software attacks against private companies known as ransomware. In these kinds of attacks, criminal hackers hijack the computer data of companies until they agree to pay large amounts of money or ransoms.

A U.S. government official told reporters that the government had raised its concerns with high-level Chinese officials about the country’s “malicious cyber activity.” The use of contract hackers by China’s civilian intelligence agency was especially “eye-opening and surprising,” the official said.

A joint cybersecurity advisory was issued Monday by the National Security Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It said the agencies had “observed increasingly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored cyber activity.” The activity had targeted U.S. political, economic, military, educational, and critical infrastructure,” the advisory said.

There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials on the new accusations. In the past, Chinese officials have said China is also a victim of hacking and that the country opposes all forms of cyberattacks.

The U.S. did not announce any restrictions against China for the activities it was accused of taking part in. However, the U.S. administration official told Reuters that the United States is “not ruling out further action to hold (China) accountable.”

Also on Monday, the Justice Department announced charges against four Chinese nationals. They are accused of working with the Ministry of State Security in a worldwide hacking campaign. U.S. officials said the activities took place between 2011 and 2018. They targeted numerous computer systems, including those of companies, universities and governments. The operations attempted to steal trade secrets and other business information that could help Chinese companies, the officials said.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has publicly blamed a series of ransomware and other cyberattacks on groups operating in Russia. But it has not directly linked those activities to the Russian government. Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last month. The U.S. president threatened to act against Russia if the government did not act against cyber criminals operating from inside Russia.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press, Reuters and VOA News’ Steve Herman reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

hackern. a person who uses a computer to illegally break into someone else’s computer system to read the information kept there

disruptv. to cause something to be unable to continue in the normal way

destabilizev. to cause something to be unable to operate or survive

malicious – adj. intended to harm or upset someone

sophisticated adj. a way of operating that is very advanced and effective

infrastructure n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country or region

accountableadj. having to be responsible for what you do and able to explain your actions