House Republicans urge Trump to take action against Chinese hackers targeting coronavirus research

House Republicans urge Trump to take action against Chinese hackers targeting coronavirus research
© Getty Images

The top Republicans on three House committees urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE Monday to crack down on efforts by Chinese government-backed hackers to target and steal health data and research related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video Top House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive MORE (R-Ore.), Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulThe Global Fragility Act provides the tools to address long-term impacts of COVID House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers MORE (R-Texas) and Financial Service Committee ranking member Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryCheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers House Republicans urge Trump to take action against Chinese hackers targeting coronavirus research MORE (R-N.C.) detailed their concerns in a letter, raising the idea of levying sanctions against the hacking efforts by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

“For many years, the PRC has perpetrated cyber-attacks on Americans, our financial institutions, and even the U.S. government itself,” the GOP members wrote. “The response to this orchestrated malicious activity was always muted, however, with hopes that leniency toward PRC aggression would foster greater economic cooperation and deeper diplomatic ties.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The Republican leaders noted that the previous strategy had the “opposite effect” of discouraging malicious Chinese cyber activity, instead allowing Beijing “to proceed down another path, which threatens U.S. and global security.”

The letter was sent after the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned in May that Chinese government-backed hackers were targeting U.S. groups working on vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. 

The agencies warned that the hackers had been “observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research,” noting that these actions could endanger the ability to fight the virus. 

Federal agencies in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada teamed up last week to warn that Russian hackers were also targeting groups tied to COVID-19 research. 

The Republican lawmakers pointed to this warning in calling on Trump to take action, arguing in favor of the Treasury Department levying sanctions on Chinese-backed hackers that target Americans through cyberattacks.

ADVERTISEMENT

“These actions must have consequences,” they wrote. “If we do not utilize our sanctions strategically in response to bad acts, our sanctions regime loses its deterrent effect, and we will only see these cyber-attacks from the PRC further escalate.”

The letter asks the Treasury and State departments to provide classified briefings around how the Trump administration plans to respond to an increase in Chinese cyberattacks, including how the U.S. would hit back against the individual hackers involved.  

The Trump administration has stepped up efforts to push back against the Chinese government in recent weeks, with both FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrGOP lawmaker calls for Justice Dept. to probe international court Barr pulls over to thank pro-police rally in Virginia Trump: Yates either lying or grossly incompetent MORE both giving speeches warning of dangers posed by Beijing's actions, while Trump has repeatedly assailed China over its handling of the pandemic.

Wray warned earlier this month of Chinese counterintelligence threats, noting that Chinese espionage cases opened by the FBI have increased by 1,300 percent over the past decade. 

He said that “at this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”