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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A Chinese government-associated hacking group that shifted its focus this spring toward collecting intelligence involving coronavirus response has again reoriented its work, this time to target Tibetan dissidents, according to security firm Proofpoint.

Between the lines: China’s intelligence services may now feel that, with the initial COVID-19 crisis in both Europe and China now receding, they can return to older, core priorities.

Details: Proofpoint connected the most recent activity to the same Chinese group behind the coronavirus campaign because of shared email accounts employed during phishing campaigns, use of the same "new malware family," and the group’s historical targeting patterns.

  • This Chinese hacking group has a well-documented history of targeting Tibetan dissident and exile organizations. Chinese intelligence places great emphasis on tracking human rights figures and dissidents abroad — and Tibetan groups are among its top targets.
  • Until now, the group of late had been targeting “European diplomatic and legislative bodies, non-profit policy research organizations, and global organizations dealing with economic affairs” in response to the pandemic, Proofpoint says.

Context: The push for Tibetan autonomy is one of what the Chinese Communist Party calls the “Five Poisons” that it believes threaten national unity and its power.

  • The others are the assertion of Taiwanese independence, the call for Uighur rights, pro-democracy movements, and Falun Gong, a spiritual practice banned in China.
  • Keeping a close eye on these is a core feature of Beijing’s internal and external counterintelligence strategies, including its cyber espionage efforts.

Go deeper

Axios Investigates

Exclusive: Suspected Chinese spy targeted California politicians

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A suspected Chinese intelligence operative developed extensive ties with local and national politicians, including a U.S. congressman, in what U.S. officials believe was a political intelligence operation run by China’s main civilian spy agency between 2011 and 2015, Axios found in a yearlong investigation.

Why it matters: The alleged operation offers a rare window into how Beijing has tried to gain access to and influence U.S. political circles.

Republican-led Pennsylvania court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional

Workers count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican-led Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled that the state's mail-in voting law is unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Three Republican judges sided with Republican challengers and ruled that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state's constitution. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.

39 mins ago - World

China's ambassador warns Taiwan could spark "military conflict" with U.S.

Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's ambassador to the U.S. warned in a rare interview with NPR that if Taiwanese authorities "keep going down the road for independence," it would "most likely" lead to a "military conflict" between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Chinese officials rarely speak in such blunt terms, but veteran diplomat Qin Gang was unequivocal: "The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States."