FBI director calls China 'biggest' US threat; authorities warn of North Korean cyber attacks

"The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology," he warned.

July 06, 2022, 8:05 PM

Speaking alongside his British counterpart in London on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray called China the "biggest long-term threat" to both the U.S. and the U.K.

"The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology -- whatever it is that makes your industry tick -- and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market," Wray said while giving remarks to international business leaders. "And they're set on using every tool at their disposal to do it."

Wray also warned of potential tactics by Chinese officials, saying they steal technology by using intelligence officers to "target" valuable pieces of information and companies.

"We've even caught people affiliated with Chinese companies out in the U.S. heartland, sneaking into fields to dig up proprietary, genetically modified seeds, which would have cost them nearly a decade and billions in research to develop themselves," Wray said. "And those efforts pale in comparison to their lavishly-resourced hacking program that's bigger than that of every other major country combined."

The Chinese, Wray said, use cyber to "steal" volumes of information. He said U.S. officials are working with MI5, the British intelligence service, to identify other investments that the Chinese government makes in proxy relationships -- a kind of third-party venue through which China steals information.

Wray said that U.S. companies should be wary of working with or in China, something about which he has warned before, and he urged business leaders to contact the FBI for further information on ways to mitigate the Chinese cyber threat.

PHOTO: FBI Director Christopher Wray at a joint press conference with MI5 Director General Ken McCallum at MI5 headquarters, in central London July 6, 2022.
FBI Director Christopher Wray at a joint press conference with MI5 Director General Ken McCallum at MI5 headquarters, in central London July 6, 2022.
Dominic Lipinski/AP

His warning was the latest episode of the U.S. pushing back on what they describe as Chinese hostility. Relations between the U.S. and China have evolved since President Joe Biden took office -- his predecessor Donald Trump embarked on a trade war with the country -- and the U.S. and China remain deeply intertwined, though they are often opposed on various issues.

After one call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this year, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry said, "The U.S.-China relationship has not yet emerged from the predicament created by the previous U.S. administration but has instead encountered more and more challenges. The U.S. side has made a misreading and misjudgment of China's strategic intentions."

On Wednesday, Wray warned that if China were to invade Taiwan, U.S. companies could see a repeat, on a much larger scale, of the economic disarray from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the resulting international condemnation.

"Just as in Russia, Western investments built over years could become hostage capital stranded, supply chains and relationships disrupted," he said. "Companies are caught between sanctions and Chinese law forbidding compliance with them. That's not just geopolitics. It's business forecasting."

Wray concluded by saying the U.S. and U.K. were working together to combat this threat.

His remarks come as American law enforcement agencies and the Treasury Department cautioned the public of another overseas adversary, this one targeting hospital systems.

North Korean-backed cyber actors are targeting the health care and public health sector, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the FBI and Treasury Department said on Wednesday.

These actors use Maui ransomware, a specific technology that has a North Korean hallmark, to infiltrate health care sectors and hold their systems ransom in exchange for a payment, American officials said in an advisory.

The officials said that since May 2021, the agencies have observed and reacted to "multiple" Maui ransomware incidents indicating that they came from North Korea.

PHOTO: MI5 Director General Ken McCallum, left, and FBI Director Christopher Wray meet at MI5 headquarters, in central London, July 6, 2022.
MI5 Director General Ken McCallum, left, and FBI Director Christopher Wray meet at MI5 headquarters, in central London, July 6, 2022.
Dominic Lipinski/AP

"North Korean state-sponsored cyber actors used Maui ransomware in these incidents to encrypt servers responsible for healthcare services—including electronic health records services, diagnostics services, imaging services, and intranet services," the advisory states. "In some cases, these incidents disrupted the services provided by the targeted HPH Sector organizations for prolonged periods."

The agencies believe that because health care organizations "provide services that are critical to human life and health," they are likely to pay ransoms when attacked. Law enforcement advise not paying the ransom and to contact CISA or the FBI instead.

"Because of this assumption, the FBI, CISA, and Treasury assess North Korean state-sponsored actors are likely to continue targeting HPH Sector organizations," the officials said.

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