Two Chinese Hackers Charged with Global Computer Intrusion Campaigns

Washington, DC—Two Chinese nationals were indicted today with conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft, according to the announcement of the Department of Justice.

ZHU HUA (朱华), a/k/a “Afwar,” a/k/a “CVNX,” a/k/a “Alayos,” a/k/a “Godkiller,” and ZHANG SHILONG (张士龙), a/k/a “Baobeilong,” a/k/a “Zhang Jianguo,” a/k/a “Atreexp,” were both nationals of the People’s Republic of China (“China”).

ZHU and ZHANG were members of a hacking group operating in China known within the cyber security community as Advanced Persistent Threat 10 (the “APT10 Group”).  The defendants worked for a company in China called Huaying Haitai Science and Technology Development Company (“Huaying Haitai”) and acted in association with the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s Tianjin State Security Bureau.

Through their involvement with the APT10 Group, from at least in or about 2006 up to and including in or about 2018, ZHU and ZHANG conducted global campaigns of computer intrusions targeting, among other data, intellectual property and confidential business and technological information at managed service providers (“MSPs”), which are companies that remotely manage the information technology infrastructure of businesses and governments around the world, more than 45 technology companies in at least a dozen U.S. states, and U.S. government agencies.

The APT10 Group targeted a diverse array of commercial activity, industries, and technologies, including aviation, satellite, and maritime technology, industrial factory automation, automotive supplies, laboratory instruments, banking and finance, telecommunications and consumer electronics, computer processor technology, information technology services, packaging, consulting, medical equipment, healthcare, biotechnology, pharmaceutical manufacturing, mining, and oil and gas exploration and production.  Among other things, ZHU and ZHANG registered IT infrastructure that the APT10 Group used for its intrusions and engaged in illegal hacking operations.

ZHU and ZHANG are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.

According to the allegations in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

Overview

ZHU HUA (朱华), a/k/a “Afwar,” a/k/a “CVNX,” a/k/a “Alayos,” a/k/a “Godkiller,” and ZHANG SHILONG (张士龙), a/k/a “Baobeilong,” a/k/a “Zhang Jianguo,” a/k/a “Atreexp,” the defendants, both nationals of China, were members of a hacking group operating in China known within the cyber security community as the APT10 Group, or alternatively as “Red Apollo,” “CVNX,” “Stone Panda,” “MenuPass,” and “POTASSIUM.”  The defendants worked for Huaying Haitai in Tianjin, China, and acted in association with the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s Tianjin State Security Bureau.  From at least in or about 2006 up to and including in or about 2018, members of the APT10 Group, including ZHU and ZHANG, conducted extensive campaigns of intrusions into computer systems around the world.  The APT10 Group used some of the same online facilities to initiate, facilitate, and execute its campaigns during the conspiracy.

Most recently, beginning at least in or about 2014, members of the APT10 Group, including ZHU and ZHANG, engaged in an intrusion campaign to obtain unauthorized access to the computers and computer networks of MSPs for businesses and governments around the world (the “MSP Theft Campaign”).  The APT10 Group targeted MSPs in order to leverage the MSPs’ networks to gain unauthorized access to the computers and computer networks of the MSPs’ clients and to steal, among other data, intellectual property and confidential business data on a global scale.  For example, through the MSP Theft Campaign, the APT10 Group obtained unauthorized access to the computers of an MSP that had offices in the Southern District of New York and compromised the data of that MSP and certain of its clients involved in banking and finance, telecommunications and consumer electronics, medical equipment, packaging, manufacturing, consulting, healthcare, biotechnology, automotive, oil and gas exploration, and mining.

Earlier, beginning in or about 2006, members of the APT10 Group, including ZHU and ZHANG, engaged in an intrusion campaign to obtain unauthorized access to the computers and computer networks of more than 45 technology companies and U.S. government agencies, in order to steal information and data concerning a number of technologies (the “Technology Theft Campaign”).  Through the Technology Theft Campaign, the APT10 Group stole hundreds of gigabytes of sensitive data and targeted the computers of victim companies involved in aviation, space and satellite technology, manufacturing technology, pharmaceutical technology, oil and gas exploration and production technology, communications technology, computer processor technology, and maritime technology.

In furtherance of the APT10 Group’s intrusion campaigns, ZHU and ZHANG, among other things, worked for Huaying Haitai and registered malicious domains and infrastructure.  In addition, ZHU, a penetration tester, engaged in hacking operations on behalf of the APT10 Group and recruited other individuals to the APT10 Group, and ZHANG developed and tested malware for the APT10 Group.

The MSP Theft Campaign

In furtherance of the MSP Theft Campaign, ZHU, ZHANG, and their coconspirators in the APT10 Group engaged in the following criminal conduct:

  • First, after the APT10 Group gained unauthorized access into the computers of an MSP, the APT10 Group installed multiple variants of malware on MSP computers around the world.  To avoid antivirus detection, the malware was installed using malicious files that masqueraded as legitimate files associated with the victim computer’s operating system.  Such malware enabled members of the APT10 Group to monitor victims’ computers remotely and steal user credentials.
  • Second, after stealing administrative credentials from computers of an MSP, the APT10 Group used those stolen credentials to connect to other systems within an MSP and its clients’ networks.  This enabled the APT10 Group to move laterally through an MSP’s network and its clients’ networks and to compromise victim computers that were not yet infected with malware.
  • Third, after identifying data of interest on a compromised computer and packaging it for exfiltration using encrypted archives, the APT10 Group used stolen credentials to move the data of an MSP client to one or more other compromised computers of the MSP or its other clients’ networks before exfiltrating the data to other computers controlled by the APT10 Group.

Over the course of the MSP Theft Campaign, ZHU, ZHANG, and their coconspirators in the APT10 Group successfully obtained unauthorized access to computers providing services to or belonging to victim companies located in at least 12 countries, including Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  The victim companies included at least the following:  a global financial institution, three telecommunications and/or consumer electronics companies; three companies involved in commercial or industrial manufacturing; two consulting companies; a healthcare company; a biotechnology company; a mining company; an automotive supplier company; and a drilling company.

The Technology Theft Campaign

Over the course of the Technology Theft Campaign, which began in or about 2006, ZHU, ZHANG, and their coconspirators in the APT10 Group successfully obtained unauthorized access to the computers of more than 45 technology companies and U.S. Government agencies based in at least 12 states, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  The APT10 Group stole hundreds of gigabytes of sensitive data and information from the victims’ computer systems, including from at least the following victims:  seven companies involved in aviation, space and/or satellite technology; three companies involved in communications technology; three companies involved in manufacturing advanced electronic systems and/or laboratory analytical instruments; a company involved in maritime technology; a company involved in oil and gas drilling, production, and processing; and the NASA Goddard Space Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  In addition to those victims who had information stolen, ZHU, ZHANG, and their coconspirators successfully obtained unauthorized access to computers belonging to more than 25 other technology-related companies involved in, among other things, industrial factory automation, radar technology, oil exploration, information technology services, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and computer processor technology, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Finally, the APT10 Group compromised more than 40 computers in order to steal sensitive data belonging to the Navy, including the names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, salary information, personal phone numbers, and email addresses of more than 100,000 Navy personnel.

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