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‘Cease this malicious activity’: Pompeo tells China to stop stealing COVID-19 research

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United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issues a statement telling China to stop stealing COVID-19 research while condemning attempts by Chinese hackers to steal US intellectual property.

People’s Republic of China (PRC) actors “are trying to steal COVID-related research from the United States. We condemn these attempts and call on the PRC to cease this malicious activity,” Pompeo announced on Twitter.

The secretary of state denounced China’s attempts to steal COVID-19 research, declaring, “The United States calls on the PRC to cease this malicious activity.”

On Wednesday, the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) announced that China was targeting American organizations to “illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research.”

The secretary of state’s brief followup announcement is as follows:

The United States condemns attempts by cyber actors and non-traditional collectors affiliated with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to steal US intellectual property and data related to COVID-19 research, as announced in a May 13, 2020 warning by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

The United States calls on the PRC to cease this malicious activity. As the May 13 warning notes, “The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options.” The PRC’s behavior in cyberspace is an extension of its counterproductive actions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the United States and our allies and partners are coordinating a collective, transparent response to save lives, the PRC continues to silence scientists, journalists, and citizens, and to spread disinformation, which has exacerbated the dangers of this health crisis.

Meanwhile the Department of Justice has been cracking down on American universities and professors who hid the fact that they were receiving large sums of money from the Chinese Communist Party.

Just this week alone, a University of Arkansas professor was arrested for wire fraud and failing to disclose payments received from China, while in a separate incident, a former Emory University professor was convicted and sentenced for working with the Chinese and filing a false tax return.

How China ‘Acquires’ Foreign Data and Research

According to the intelligence community, the US has been losing critical technology and research to China in several ways through both legal and illegal means:

  • Straight-up Hacking: Chinese government hackers have engaged in a prolonged campaign in recent years to build a massive database on American citizens for intelligence and counter-intelligence purposes.
    • By exfiltrating data from the US Government (USG) Office of Personnel Management (OPM), health insurers (e.g. Anthem), airlines (e.g. United) and hotel chains (e.g. Marriott), among others, China’s intelligence services have access to an incredibly rich database on the behavior, preferences, and vulnerabilities of hundreds of millions of Americans.
  • Acquiring Foreign Companies and Harvesting Their Data: When a Chinese company buys an American company, it gets all the technology the American company owns, including defense capabilities.
  • Any Company Operating in China Must Surrender its Data: By law any company operating in China will have to hand over its data to the Communist government. The Chinese government will have lawful and technical access to all digital data within its borders and perhaps to large volumes of data beyond its borders.
  • Infiltrating Universities and Research Centers: China has over 200 recruitment programs in which the Chinese government offers lucrative financial and research benefits to recruit individuals working and studying outside of China who possess access to, or expertise in, high-priority research fields.
    • All programs are overseen by the Chinese government and are designed to support its goals, sometimes at US taxpayers’ expense, according to the FBI.

In October, the director of the Pentagon’s Protecting Critical Technology Task Force warned, ”China devotes significant resources at a national level to infiltrate our universities and our labs. And they are doing it for a reason.

“They’ve even coined the phrase … ‘Picking flowers in the US to make honey in China,’ which I would say perfectly illustrates their deliberate plan to steal R&D, knowhow, and technology to advance their military capability. They are not even hiding it.”

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is the editor of The Sociable. His passions include writing about how technology impacts society and the parallels between Artificial Intelligence and Mythology. Previously, he was a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa and an editor at Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co