Beijing: Hainan Xiandun, a Chinese technology company, is actively recruiting Chinese university students as English language translators even after US law enforcement agencies accused Beijing of setting up such companies as a ‘front’ for spying operations against western targets. Hackers with suspected links to China’s intelligence agencies are still advertising for new recruits to work on cyber espionage, even after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) indicted the perpetrators in an effort to disrupt their activities.
In another covert move by China, Beijing is luring job seekers into committing state-sponsored espionage on western targets along with persuading them to translate confidential stolen papers collected from various government agencies. To hire these Chinese university students, the country is hiding the information of the real duties that they will have to perform after they are hired, reported Hong Kong Post. The students are led into working for a top-secret technology business where they are identifying potential Western targets for espionage and interpreting stolen papers as part of Beijing’s massive intelligence apparatus. About 140 possible translators, mostly recent graduates who studied English at public colleges in Hainan, Sichuan, and Xian, have been targeted for this job.
In Chinese province of Hainan, people applied for job postings for a business called Hainan Xiandun. In a shocking revelation, translation tests on confidential papers collected from US government agencies were part of the application process. There were also directives to research people at Johns Hopkins University, a major target for espionage gathering. According to a 2021 US federal indictment, a Chinese firm Hainan Xiandun served as a front for the Chinese hacking organization APT40. Western intelligence services earlier reported that APT40 has been sent by China’s Ministry of State Security to infiltrate colleges, businesses, and government organisations throughout the US, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East.
In a bid to stop the malice, last July, the US investigation bureau, Federal Bureau of Investigation indicted three state security officers in the province of Hainan to halt Hainan Xiandun’s operations. These operations have alleged roles in creating the business as a front for state-backed espionage. These state security officials are Ding Xiaoyang, Cheng Qingmin, and Zhu Yunmin. Wu Shurong, another person included in the indictment, is thought to have been a hacker who assisted in managing staff at Hainan Xiandun. This has become a part of the Chinese tactic where the graduate students are enticed into a career in espionage. Not just this, but even the websites of Chinese universities also posted job advertisements for translators without providing any more information about the nature of the work.
These developments and moves by Chinese universities will have long-term effects as these students may find it challenging to live and work in western nations, which is a major incentive for many students to study foreign languages. Their job applications provide light on APT40’s strategies, which include targeting maritime, biomedical, and robotics research institutes as part of larger initiatives to learn about Western industrial strategy and acquire private information. A large workforce of English speakers who can help identify hacking targets, cyber experts who can access enemies’ networks, and intelligence officials who can analyze the stolen data are all necessary for such a large-scale breach.
The job seekers were instructed to download ‘software to go around the Great Firewall’ in the instruction manual. It forewarns that the research will include visiting blocked websites like Facebook, which calls for the usage of a VPN, or programme that hides the user’s location, in order to acquire access. Hainan Xiandun appeared to have a tight association with Hainan University and advertised job openings on university recruiting websites. The university library’s first floor, which also houses the student computer area, was the location of the company’s registration.