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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.

Biden to sign voting rights order to mark "Bloody Sunday" anniversary

President Biden will sign an executive order today, on the 56th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," meant to promote voting rights, according to an administration official.

Why it matters: The executive order comes as Democrats face an uphill battle to pass a sweeping election bill meant, in part, to combat a growing number of proposals introduced by Republicans at the state level that would restrict voter access.

Updated 5 hours ago - World

In photos: Pope Francis spreads message of peace on first trip to Iraq

Pope Francis waving as he arrives near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul on March 7. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis was on Sunday visiting areas of northern Iraq once held by Islamic State militants.

Why it matters: This is the first-ever papal trip to Iraq. The purpose of Francis' four-day visit is largely intended to reassure the country's Christian minority, who were violently persecuted by ISIS, which controlled the region from 2014-2017.