The targets included telecommunications companies, universities, think tanks, and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, says US Justice Department

The Malaysian nationals were arrested by Malaysian authorities on Monday

The US Department of Justice announced charges against five Chinese and two Malaysian nationals on Wednesday in the hacking of more than a hundred targets in the US and elsewhere, including telecommunications companies, universities, think tanks, and pro-democracy activists and politicians in Hong Kong.

The Malaysian nationals were arrested by Malaysian authorities on Monday. The Justice Department says the Chinese nationals are now at large in China.

“The department of Justice has used every tool available to disrupt the illegal computer intrusions and cyberattacks by these Chinese citizens,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a statement.

“Regrettably, the Chinese Communist Party has chosen a different path of making China safe for cybercriminals so long as they attack computers outside China and steal intellectual property helpful to China.”

The Justice Department said that one of the Chinese nationals had boasted he was protected by China’s Ministry of State Security.

“Some of these criminal actors believed their association with the [People’s Republic of China] provided them free licence to hack and steal across the globe,” Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin said in a statement.

The charges come as US-China relations continue to unravel over the coronavirus pandemic, trade war and human rights, with distrust between the two governments now higher than it has been in decades.

The Justice Department has been particularly active this year in prosecutions related to alleged Chinese espionage and hacking.

In July, a federal grand jury in Washington state indicted two Chinese

on charges of hacking, including the alleged theft of “terabytes” of data. They are accused of targeting dissidents and human rights activists in the US, Hong Kong and mainland China.

On Monday, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a separate warning that hackers associated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security were using “commercially available information sources and open-source exploitation tools” to target US government computers.

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