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The Chinese government-linked hacker group allegedly stole $20 million in COVID aid

The Chinese government-linked hacker group allegedly stole  million in COVID aid

A hacker group linked to the Chinese government has reportedly stolen over $20 million in COVID aid, including loans from US small businesses and unemployment funds in over a dozen states.

NBC reports that the allegation comes from the Secret Service, although the Secret Service has not released a report on the matter. The group allegedly behind the theft, APT41 – also known as Wicked Panda and Winnti, is well-known and has been behind several attacks in the past, which makes the claim credible.

Citing officials and experts, most of them speaking off the record, NBC claims that other federal investigations into pandemic fraud have also pointed back to foreign state-linked hackers. A Secret Service spokesman declined to comment further, but a spokesman suggested that the attacks may have targeted all 50 states.

Assuming APT41 stole $20 million in pandemic funds, the theft would be a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers believed to have been extorted, stolen and/or falsely claimed. The Labor Department’s Office of the Inspector General believes that about 20% of the $872.5 billion spent on federal pandemic funds was improperly paid, with the fraud rate potentially higher again.

The Department of Justice indicted members and associates of APT 41 in September 2020 on charges of state-sponsored hacking. At the time, the group was alleged to be behind data breaches affecting more than 100 companies and groups in the United States and abroad.

Groups and companies previously targeted by APT41 include software development companies, hardware manufacturers, telecommunications providers, social media companies, video game companies, non-profit organizations, universities, think tanks and foreign governments, as well as pro-democracy politicians and activists in Hong Kong.

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“The actions of Wicked Panda (APT41) to steal from the US Paycheck Protection Program after COVID-19 come as no surprise and should be a continued wake-up call,” Tim Kosiba, CEO of public cybersecurity solutions and training provider bracket f Inc. – a subsidiary by Redacted Inc., told SiliconANGLE. “This Chinese-backed organization will remain a strategic threat to our country to support the efforts of the CCP to commit espionage and attack our porous infrastructure to enhance their competitive advantage.”

Kosiba added that “the OPS rollout was not implemented with cybersecurity at the fore, but rather a means to support our community as a result of immediate COVID-19 impacts,” and therefore that “there should be little doubt that APT41 remains is present in one form or another within state government systems, as the CCP-directed effort to collect information on American citizens will continue.”

Erich Kron, security awareness spokesperson at cybersecurity training company KnowBe4 Inc., commented that “given the information that has been collected on American citizens by China over the years, it is far from difficult to fraudulently apply for benefits. The US government has a responsibility to protect our tax dollars from fraud and abuse, unfortunately it appears that, at least in this case, it failed to foresee this outcome.”

Photo: Pxhere

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