China-based hackers stole at least $20 million (roughly Rs. 165 crore) in US Covid relief benefits, including unemployment insurance funds and Small Business Administration loans, NBC news reported citing the country’s Secret Service. Hackers linked to the Chinese government are from a Chengdu-based group known as APT41. The report said other federal investigations of pandemic fraud also seem to point back to foreign state-affiliated hackers.
“It would be crazy to think this group didn’t target all 50 states,” Roy Dotson, national pandemic fraud recovery coordinator for the Secret Service, told NBC.
The US Secret Service declined to confirm the scope of other investigations.
They said there are over 1,000 ongoing investigations involving transnational and domestic criminal actors defrauding public benefits programs, and APT41 is “a notable player,” according to NBC news.
In recent months, the US has witnessed a rise in espionage cases emanating from China.
Last month, in three separate cases, the US government charged 13 individuals, including members of China’s security and intelligence apparatus and their agents, for alleged efforts to unlawfully exert influence in the United States for the benefit of their government.
“As these cases demonstrate, the government of China sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our judicial system that protects those rights. They did not succeed,” said US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, as quoted in the Justice Department press statement.
“The Justice Department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the Rule of Law upon which our democracy is based. We will continue to fiercely protect the rights guaranteed to everyone in our country. And we will defend the integrity of our institutions,” Garland added.
Seven Chinese nationals were charged – two of whom were arrested on October 20 in New York – with participating in a scheme to cause the forced repatriation of a PRC national residing in the United States.
The defendants are accused of conducting surveillance of and engaging in a campaign to harass and coerce a US resident to return to Beijing as part of an international extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt.”
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