WASHINGTON — The Justice Department accused a pair of Chinese hackers on Tuesday of targeting vaccine development on behalf of the country’s intelligence service as part of broader yearslong campaign of cybertheft aimed at an array of industries including defense contractors, high-end manufacturing and solar energy companies.
Justice Department officials called the suspects a blended threat who sometimes worked on behalf of China’s spy services and sometimes worked to enrich themselves. The officials said that an indictment secured against them earlier this month and unsealed on Tuesday was the first to target such a threat.
American government officials said that at the behest of China’s spy service, the two hackers shifted their focus this year to trying to acquire vaccine research and other information about the Covid-19 pandemic.
The indictment came as the Trump administration has stepped up its criticism of Beijing, both for its theft of secrets and its failure to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and is a significant escalation of that effort. China is not working with the rest of the world to stop the pandemic, and its covert activity could set back research efforts.
The accusations also came days after the United States and allied countries accused Russia of trying to steal information on vaccine development.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.