Listen

Rosenstein: 2 Chinese Nationals Indicted On Charges Of Hacking U.S. Targets

Dec 20, 2018
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced today that two Chinese nationals have been indicted on charges of hacking U.S. government and business targets. Here's Rosenstein.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROD ROSENSTEIN: The defendants allegedly committed these crimes in association with a Chinese intelligence agency known as the Ministry of State Security.

KING: NPR's Greg Myre is here with the latest.

Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Noel.

KING: So what are these hackers charged with?

MYRE: Well, it's very broad, and it's very sweeping. They apparently, according to the indictment, have been at this since 2006. So it's been going on for more than a decade. It spans dozens of U.S. companies, 45 or so, in a dozen states, including U.S. government agencies. And as we just heard from Rosenstein, it's linked to the Ministry of State Security, the main security apparatus in China.

KING: Right. The Department of Justice has essentially said this hacking was done in cooperation with Chinese government intelligence, which raises the question - why? How does this fit into China's objectives broadly?

MYRE: The important thing to understand is this Chinese stated goal of "Made in China 2025." And by that date, China wants to be a world leader in all of the cutting-edge 21st-century technologies - artificial intelligence, computing power, military technology, energy and transportation systems. And it's going about this in a very broad way. A big part of it seems to be illegal hacking. They're also - when U.S. companies go to China, they have to share technology, and China's become a big investor in Silicon Valley. So a multipronged approach - some of it legal, some of it not.

KING: In this hacking case, do we know who was targeted and what the data could be used for?

MYRE: So individual American companies weren't named, but it's across a broad range of industries, from aviation and space and satellites to high-tech electronics to medical labs. So you can see this broad sweep that they're going after. It's not the sort of traditional spy versus spy looking just narrowly for government or military secrets. It's a lot of high-tech secrets and a broad range of companies. But military stuff is part of it. One thing that was noted was that Navy personnel records - about 100,000 members of the Navy have had personal information stolen.

KING: Wow. What are the chances that these two hackers will be brought to the United States to face these charges?

MYRE: We really don't expect that. They're not going to be extradited. But what is important to understand here is this is part of what's clearly become, for several years and across two administrations now, this naming and shaming campaign of pointing out the Chinese when they're caught, something that really gets under the skin of China. And even going back a little further, the first big case was brought back in 2014 when the U.S. named some Chinese military officers in a case. And then in 2015, under the Obama administration, an agreement was reached to stop the theft of intellectual property. And there was a sense that there was some improvement for a year or so, to the surprise of many. Many were very skeptical about that.

But now, in the last year or two, by all accounts, we're seeing a real rise in Chinese hacking across a broad range, both of companies, at universities - running, really, the whole spectrum. And we're likely to see more crackdowns like this.

KING: NPR's Greg Myre.

Thanks so much, Greg.

MYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.