As American researchers are working hard to develop a vaccine and a cure for the Chinese coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, Chinese Communist Party hackers are targeting American research for cyberattacks, according to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Rogue actors have increased cybertheft and attacks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“China’s long history of bad behavior in cyberspace is well documented, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone they are going after the critical organizations involved in the nation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told The New York Times. He added that the agency would “defend our interests aggressively.”
The Times insisted that “the government has offered no evidence to back up its claim,” but it seems highly likely that the Chinese, who have repeatedly engaged in cyber espionage and other efforts to steal U.S. intellectual property — especially in pharmaceuticals — have also done so in the middle of this crisis. Israel has blamed Iran for similar cyberattacks, although it has yet to prove the Islamic Republic’s culpability. The Times also noted that South Korean hackers have snooped on a wide range of health organizations during the crisis.
Last week, the U.S. and Britain issued a joint warning that rogue cyber actors — most likely with Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea — had targeted “health care bodies, pharmaceutical companies, academia, medical research organizations and local governments.”
“This is a global pandemic, but unfortunately countries are not treating it as a global problem,” Justin Fier, a former national security intelligence analyst who is now the director of cyberintelligence at the cybersecurity firm Darktrace, told The Times. “Everyone is conducting widespread intelligence gathering — on pharmaceutical research, PPE orders, response — to see who is making progress.”
The New York Times obtained a draft of a forthcoming warning from the FBI and DHS, which officials said would be released soon. The warning states that China is seeking “valuable intellectual property and public health data through illicit means related to vaccines, treatments and testing.” The warning also cites “nontraditional actors,” likely referring to researchers and students in the U.S. which the Trump administration warns are being activated to steal data from inside American academic and private laboratories.
While it remains unclear what proof the FBI and DHS possess, it does seem extremely likely that Beijing is using cyber espionage to snoop on U.S. efforts against the coronavirus. Furthermore, it would fall in line with Beijing’s notorious lies and malfeasance during the coronavirus crisis.
The British think tank the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), which claimed that the G7 countries should sue China for damages in excess of $4 trillion over the coronavirus crisis, laid out a digestible timeline of the virus’s spread and China’s lies about the disease and failure to contain the spread.
“From the outset, the CCP tried to censor attempts by Chinese citizens to identify and publicise the truth concerning the origins, nature and dangers of the virus. Not all of these censorship efforts succeeded, and a considerable body of independent, corroborative data came to light,” the HJS report explains.
According to unpublished, unconfirmed Chinese government reports seen by the South China Morning Post, the first recorded case of the coronavirus dates to November 17, 2019, weeks before The Lancet‘s claim that the first recorded case came on December 1. By December 8, the SCMP documents recorded between 1 and 5 new cases. By December 27, the SCMP documents showed 181 confirmed cases, and a friend of coronavirus whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang recalled that his medical department first reported the new outbreak to the Wuhan Center for Disease Control on the 27th.
On December 30, Dr. Li sent a message to his friends about the outbreak, and the police responded by investigating his friends. The authorities forced Dr. Li to pledge not to spread “disruptive rumors.” Meanwhile, by that date, the SCMP documents recorded 266 cases. Li would go on to die of COVID-19 after contracting it from his patients. On December 31, China finally reported the outbreak to the WHO, while claiming there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
On January 1, 2020, a Hubei official ordered coronavirus tests halted and samples of the virus destroyed. On January 14, the WHO reported some human-to-human transmission, but quickly retracted the claim, citing Chinese sources. Wuhan was not put under lockdown until January 22-23. On January 26, Wuhan’s mayor admitted that 5 million people had already left the city.
On January 7, the CCP’s journal Qiushi began publishing timelines of President Xi Jinping’s efforts against the outbreak. A transcript of a speech Xi gave on February 3 referred to a statement he had made on January 7 at a meeting of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, when he had “issued requirements for the prevention and control of the new Coronavirus.”
Xi Jinping could have acted to shut down Wuhan as early as January 7, two weeks before the city was shut down. A University of Southampton study found that if strict quarantine measures had been introduced three weeks earlier, the coronavirus’s spread would have been reduced by 95 percent.
As the coronavirus spread across the globe, China’s Communist Party put out a video encouraging Italians to hug Chinese people to prove they weren’t racist — while China was lying about the true danger of the virus. Chinese companies also sent faulty medical gear and coronavirus antibody tests to European countries.
Early during the crisis, China asked other countries for personal protective equipment (PPE) and received 2.4 billion pieces. Yet when other countries needed PPE, China extorted them — only sending valuable medical aid if political leaders agreed to publicly praise Beijing. Meanwhile, the Communist Party is also preventing U.S. companies from shipping their own medical gear back home, where it is sorely needed. Meanwhile, Xi attempts to blame the U.S. for the virus.
A new report compiled by the “Five Eyes” intelligence agencies of the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Britain added further evidence of China’s lies and malfeasance regarding the coronavirus. The State of Missouri has already filed a lawsuit to hold China accountable, and there is a growing chorus of voices demanding the U.S. sue the Chinese Communist Party in international court.
Any proof of cyber espionage would only add to an extremely long list of abuses from the Chinese Communist Party regarding the coronavirus crisis.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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