United States and United Kingdom sanction China over global cyber espionage scheme

Both countries accuse Beijing of using a company as a front to obtain sensitive information on millions of people, including journalists, politicians and academics.

Two Western powers have sanctioned China for a cyber espionage scheme that targeted millions of people, including journalists, politicians and academics. According to the United States and the United Kingdom, Beijing used a company as a front for spying. The sanctions target science and technology company Wuhan Xiaoruizhi, as well as Zhao Guangzong and Ni Gaobin.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) carried out "a wide variety of computer network exploitation and computer intrusion activities" through the aforementioned company.

The Treasury Department moved forward with sanctions against the responsible parties, which were announced Monday afternoon. "The United States is focused on both disrupting the dangerous and irresponsible actions of malicious cyber actors, as well as protecting our citizens and our critical infrastructure," said Brian Nelson, under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Authorities in both countries dubbed the threat Advanced Persistent Threat 31 or "APT31" and described it as an arm of China's Ministry of State Security. According to them, the list of targets includes U.S. senators, British parliamentarians and government officials worldwide.

As for the purpose of the operation, prosecutor Lisa Monaco said it was aimed at "to repress critics of the Chinese regime, compromise government institutions, and steal trade secrets."

According to Reuters, the U.S. indictment highlights that the hacking "resulted in the confirmed or potential compromise of work accounts, personal emails, online storage and telephone call records belonging to millions of Americans."

In turn, the cyberespionage operation targeted "some of America's most vital critical infrastructure sectors, as well as White House staff; the Departments of Justice, Commerce, Treasury and State; and members of Congress".

'The Justice Department will not tolerate efforts by the Chinese government to intimidate Americans'

Another official to speak out on the matter was Merrick Garland, attorney general, who chose to release a statement condemning the situation.

"The Justice Department will not tolerate efforts by the Chinese government to intimidate Americans who serve the public, silence the dissidents who are protected by American laws, or steal from American businesses," he said via a statement.

"This case serves as a reminder of the ends to which the Chinese government is willing to go to target and intimidate its critics, including launching malicious cyber operations aimed at threatening the national security of the United States and our allies," the official added.

China's response

Chinese diplomats in the United Kingdom and the United States denied the accusations and defined them as unjustified. The Chinese embassy in London spoke of "completely fabricated and malicious slanders."