World

US charges five Chinese people, two Malaysians for alleged hacking

Targets allegedly included video game firms and HK activists

WASHINGTON: The US Justice Department said it has charged five Chinese residents and two Malaysian businessmen in a wide-ranging hacking effort that encompassed targets from video games to pro-democracy activists.

Federal prosecutors said the Chinese nationals had been charged with hacking more than 100 companies in the US and abroad, including software development companies, computer manufacturers, telecommunications providers, social media companies, gaming companies, nonprofits, universities, think-tanks as well as foreign governments and politicians and civil society figures in Hong Kong.

US officials stopped short of alleging the hackers were working on behalf of Beijing, but in a statement, Deputy Attorney-General Jeffrey Rosen expressed exasperation with Chinese authorities, saying they were - at the very least - turning a blind eye to cyber espionage.

"We know the Chinese authorities to be at least as able as the law enforcement authorities here and in like-minded states to enforce laws against computer intrusions," Mr Rosen said. "But they choose not to."

He further alleged that one of the Chinese defendants had boasted to a colleague that he was "very close" to China's Ministry of State Security and would be protected "unless something very big happens".

"No responsible government knowingly shelters cyber criminals that target victims worldwide in acts of rank theft," Mr Rosen said.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment. Beijing has repeatedly denied responsibility for hacking in the face of a mounting pile of indictments from the US authorities.

Along with the alleged hackers, US prosecutors also indicted two Malaysian businessmen, Wong Ong Hua, 46, and Ling Yang Ching, 32, who were charged with conspiring with two of the digital spies to profit from computer intrusions targeting video game companies in the US, France, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

The Justice Department said the pair operated through a Malaysian company called SEA Gamer Mall. They were arrested by Malaysian police on Monday morning.

Perak-based SEA Gamer Mall said the two employees are on temporary leave and it is fully cooperating with the authorities on the matter.

SECOND INDICTMENT

In a second indictment last month, the Justice Department charged Wong and Ling with 23 counts of racketeering, conspiracy, identity theft, aggravated identity theft, access device fraud, money laundering, violations of the computer fraud and abuse act, and falsely registering domain names.

Wong is the founder and chief executive office of SEA Gamer Mall, while Ling is listed as a partner and chief product officer, according to the company website.

SEA Gamer Mall was established in 2007 with offices in China, Thailand and Indonesia. On its website, it claimed it has 1.9 million registered users.

In a 2017 article, Wong was quoted as saying most of the website's sales came from prepaid top-up cards and online game virtual items.

The company had RM386 million (S$127 million) in revenue last year and is projected to hit RM500 million this year as the Covid-19 pandemic has led to more people playing games and purchasing in-game items. - REUTERS, THE STAR

WORLD