The theft from the Chengdu-based hacking group which goes by the name APT41 is the first instance of pandemic fraud tied to a foreign government that the U.S. has publicly acknowledged, and it may just be the tip of the iceberg.
The secret service declined to comment on any other potential instances of state-sponsored fraud, but said that there are more than 1,000 ongoing investigations into the stealing of Covid relief funds involving domestic and international cyber criminals, acknowledging that APT41 is "a notable player."
It is unclear at this point whether the Chinese government directed APT41 to commit this fraud or simply looked the other way.
"I've never seen them target government money before," the head of intelligence analysis at the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, John Hultquist said. "That would be an escalation."
The Secret Service considers APT41 to be a "Chinese state-sponsored, cyber threat group that is highly adept at conducting espionage missions and financial crimes for personal gain."
Officials believe that the primary purpose of state-sponsored groups like this is to gather sensitive information from American individuals, businesses, and institutions that could be used by the Chinese for espionage purposes.
At this point in time, law enforcement officials and counterintelligence experts and almost certain that every American has had all or most of their personal data taken by the Chinese government in one way or another.
Labor Department Office of Inspector General has estimated that more than $160 billion of the $872.5 billion set aside for Federal pandemic unemployment funds has potentially been siphoned off by cybercriminals, though some individual states estimate higher amounts.
There are other estimates that put that number as high as $350 billion.
"Whether it’s 350, 400 or 500 billion, at this point, the horse is out of the barn," said Linda Miller, the former deputy executive director of the federal government's Covid relief fraud watchdog.
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