The United States Secret Service has accused Chinese government-linked hackers of stealing $20 million in Covid relief funds.

A US Secret Service spokesperson, Chinese government-linked hackers stole at least $20 million in US government coronavirus relief funds, marking the first time the agency has linked Covid-19 fraud to hackers affiliated with a foreign government.

According to Secret Service spokesperson Justine Whelan, the hackers raided unemployment insurance funds and Small Business Administration loan funds in more than a dozen US states.

It is unclear whether the hackers committed the theft for personal gain or on behalf of Beijing.

The Secret Service blamed the activity on APT41, a hacking group that has allegedly conducted espionage on behalf of the Chinese government while also dabbling in self-enrichment schemes for years.

US prosecutors have accused APT41 of working on behalf of China’s civilian intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security; a Justice Department indictment from 2020 claimed that APT41 operatives were involved in hacking schemes that targeted pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong and breached over 100 companies in the US and abroad.

Roy Dotson mentioned this in a statement “Of the more than 1,000 ongoing investigations involving transnational and domestic criminal actors defrauding public benefits programs, APT41 has emerged a notable player”.

The $20 million in Covid-19 relief funding is only a fraction of the pandemic relief funds stolen from US government coffers by a variety of criminal organizations.

Since 2020, the Secret Service claims to have seized over $1.4 billion in ill-gotten gains. To get a handle on the situation, the agency enlisted Dotson’s help in collaborating with law enforcement agencies across the country to recover stolen funds.

According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, China’s hacking program is more prolific than that of all other governments combined. Beijing has routinely denied such allegations, accusing the US government of hacking China.