Russia and China using criminals ‘to commit attacks against’ West, FBI director warns

Paul Abbate says Russia, China and Iran are 'leveraging criminals'

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Paul Abbate, deputy director of the FBI, speaking to Sky News Australia, said that the West faces a “real challenge” from Russia, China, and Iran, who are “getting in the way of justice”. He claimed the nations pose a “hybrid threat” by housing criminals enterprises and later bartering with them to “break the laws within our own countries”. 

Mr Abbate said: “This is a real challenge that each of our countries faces. Each of the countries you cited, Russia, China, Iran, it’s not just a matter of providing safe haven to criminals and getting in the way of the justice we’re seeking through our criminal laws within our countries. 

“But it goes beyond that. We refer to it as a hybrid threat. Each of those countries that are cited actually leverage criminals, nefarious cyber actors, to commit attacks against our countries. 

“To steal from our countries. To break the laws within our countries. 

“So, it’s well beyond just putting up a safe haven for traditional criminal groups and criminal actors.”

The deputy director spoke to Sky News alongside the rest of the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Group. 

The organisation works together to share information about threats, crime, and disruption to national security on the global stage. 

The heads of crucial security and intelligence outfits from Australia, the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand are all part of the programme. 

Their main objects of concern have been Russia, China and Iran, as well as North Korea, although the investigatory group has a focus on transnational crime across the globe.

During the first year of the pandemic, for example, Washington accused China of harbouring two Chinese criminals indicted for seeking to steal COVID-19 vaccine research and hacking hundreds of companies around the world.

Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi were believed to have targeted biotech companies and “non-governmental organisations, and individual dissidents, clergy, and democratic and human rights activists”, according to the US Justice Department. 

The pair supplied the Chinese Ministry of State Security with the personal details, including passwords to email accounts, of individuals of interest to Beijing, the indictment said. 

US Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in July 2020: “China has now taken its place, alongside Russia, Iran, and North Korea, in that shameful club of nations that provide a safe haven for cybercriminals.” 

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Mr Abbate referenced the 2014 Yahoo Data Breaches as further evidence of criminal activity in cyberspace directed towards Western nations. 

In December of that year, Yahoo’s security team announced that Russia hackers had stolen the usernames, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, passwords, and security questions/answers for at least 500 million Yahoo accounts, otherwise known as its “crown jewels” 

Mr Abbate said: “That is a case where the Russian intelligence service leveraged ordinary criminal actors to commit acts of espionage and steal information and subscriber information and other information from that company while allowing those criminal hackers to do more ordinary forms of criminal fraud for their own personal enrichment. 

“So you have a hybrid coming together there – of the criminal hackers with the nation-state. It’s more complex than ever, we’ve seen it evolve in this way.”

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