The Secret Service recently revealed that hackers linked to the Chinese Communist Party stole at least $20 million in coronavirus relief benefits.
Although the theft of Chinese coronavirus-related state unemployment funds has been known to have occurred, this is the first time that the US government has publicly acknowledged that the theft was also committed by foreign cybercriminals sponsored by the state, according to an NBC News report.
The Secret Service said Small Business Administration loans and unemployment insurance funds had been stolen from state funds in more than a dozen states. Law enforcement and cybersecurity experts added that the theft by this hacking group – known as APT41 – could be the tip of the iceberg.
“It would be crazy to think that this group didn’t target all 50 states,” Roy Dotson, National Pandemic Fraud Coordinator for the Secret Service, told NBC News.
The Secret Service added that there are more than 1,000 ongoing investigations involving transnational and domestic criminals defrauding taxpayers’ money and that APT41 is “a notable player”.
The foreign hacking group is considered a “Chinese state-sponsored cyber threat group highly adept at carrying out espionage missions and financial crimes for personal gain,” the Secret Service said in a statement.
APT41 has become the “workhorse” of hacking that benefits the Chinese Communist Party, according to cybersecurity experts and officials from several agencies.
Cyber experts and officials have also noted that the Chinese government might order a hacking group to attack a certain target.
“The United States is the number one target because we are the number one competitor,” Ambassador Nathaniel Fick, head of the State Department’s Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, told NBC News.
“It’s a really comprehensive, multi-decade, well-thought-out, well-funded, well-planned and well-executed strategy,” Fick added.
The report adds that the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General discovered an improper payment rate of approximately 20% of the $872.5 billion in coronavirus-related federal unemployment funds, and that the true cost of the fraud could actually be higher.
Additionally, an analysis of four states showed that 42.4% of coronavirus benefits were paid improperly in the first six months.
APT41’s methods reportedly include hacking software and weaponizing it against users, such as businesses and governments. The group also tracks public disclosures of software security vulnerabilities and uses this information to target users who do not immediately update their software.
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