FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on “oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation” and alleged politicization of law enforcement, on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 12, 2023.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The FBI shut down a major China-backed hacking group that attacked hundreds of routers and had been working to compromise U.S. cyber infrastructure, FBI Director Christopher Wray announced Wednesday at a House committee hearing.
The group, code-named “Volt Typhoon,” hacked into hundreds of office and home office routers to allow the Chinese government to access their data, Wray told the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. He said the routers were outdated, which made them “easy targets.”
The hackers had been targeting U.S. water treatment plants, the power grid, oil and natural gas pipelines, and transportation systems, he added.
“Today, and literally every day, they’re actively attacking our economic security, engaging in wholesale theft of our innovation, and our personal and corporate data,” he said.
Microsoft in May helped surface the threat of the Volt Typhoon hackers, warning they had been active since 2021 and were targeting U.S. cyber infrastructure. The company urged impacted customers to change their security details.
The hacks have become increasingly sophisticated, Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said at the hearing. She explained that Chinese hackers are able to “live within a computer’s operating system” in a way that makes them difficult to identify.
“They’ve elevated their ability to act like a system administrator so you really can’t tell that’s a Chinese actor,” Easterly said.
Given the current presidential race, Wray added that the FBI was specifically focused on preventing Chinese election interference. Ahead of Taiwan’s recent presidential election, the self-governing island reported several China-backed disinformation campaigns aimed at influencing its election.
“We should absolutely expect that foreign actors will attempt to influence and that they will interfere,” Easterly said speaking about the 2024 election. “To be very clear, Americans should have confidence in the integrity of our election infrastructure because of the enormous amount of work that’s been done.”
Wray said an app like TikTok already gives the Chinese Communist Party a possible avenue into the U.S. election since it collects Americans’ private user data and is beholden to Chinese government mandates.
The officials’ comments add to a slew of warnings about the threat of China to U.S. cybersecurity. In July, Chinese hackers also compromised the email accounts of the U.S. ambassador to China and other officials. And last year, the U.S. government identified and shot down a Chinese spy balloon.
Wray himself has been ringing alarm bells on China for years. In February 2022, he told NBC News that he was shocked to learn the wide extent of Chinese spying when he became FBI director. Later that year, he joined British officials in London to issue another warning about Chinese national security threats, including the country’s intention to invade Taiwan.
The House CCP committee was formed at the start of last year to examine and regulate U.S.-China relations. Chinese government officials lambasted its creation, saying that U.S. lawmakers should “discard their ideological bias and zero-sum Cold War mentality.”
The Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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