China Lured Graduate Jobseekers Into Digital Espionage

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Chinese university students have been lured to work at a secretive technology company that masked the true nature of their jobs: researching Western targets for spying and translating hacked documents as part of Beijing’s industrial-scale intelligence regime.

The Financial Times has identified and contacted 140 potential translators, mostly recent graduates who have studied English at public universities in Hainan, Sichuan and Xi’an. They had responded to job advertisements at Hainan Xiandun, a company that was located in the tropical southern island of Hainan.

The application process included translation tests on sensitive documents obtained from US government agencies and instructions to research individuals at Johns Hopkins University, a key intelligence target.

Hainan Xiandun is alleged by a 2021 US federal indictment to have been a cover for the Chinese hacking group APT40. Western intelligence agencies have accused APT40 of infiltrating government agencies, companies and universities across the US, Canada, Europe and the Middle East, under the orders of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

The FBI sought to disrupt the activities of Hainan Xiandun last July by indicting three state security officials in Hainan province—Ding Xiaoyang, Cheng Qingmin and Zhu Yunmin—for their alleged role in establishing the company as a front for state-backed espionage. Another man mentioned in the indictment, Wu Shurong, is believed to be a hacker who helped supervise employees at Hainan Xiandun.

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