In the first-ever charges against known state actors, the US on Monday indicted five officers of China’s powerful military for serious cyber security breaches and allegedly stealing trade secrets from six American entities including Westinghouse Electric.
The indictment alleged the Chinese People’s Liberation Army hackers conspired to hack into American entities, to maintain unauthorised access to their computers and to steal information from those entities that would be useful to their competitors in China, including state-owned enterprises.
The alleged victim companies are Westinghouse Electric, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, US Steel, the United Steelworkers Union and SolarWorld.
According to the Department of Justice, in some cases, it alleges, the conspirators stole trade secrets that would have been particularly beneficial to Chinese companies at the time they were stolen.
In other cases, it alleges, the conspirators also stole sensitive, internal communications that would provide a competitor, or an adversary in litigation, with insight into the strategy and vulnerabilities of the American entity.
Three of the five — Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu and Gu Chunhui — were officers in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the PLA.
The indictment alleges that Wang, Sun, and Wen, among others known and unknown to the grand jury, hacked or attempted to hack into US entities named in the indictment, while Huang and Gu supported their conspiracy by, among other things, managing infrastructure (domain account) used for hacking.
“This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military and represents the first ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking,” said US Attorney General Eric Holder.
“The range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant and demands an aggressive response. Success in the global market place should be based solely on a company’s ability to innovate and compete, not on a sponsor government’s ability to spy and steal business secrets,” Holder said.
“This Administration will not tolerate actions by any nation that seeks to illegally sabotage American companies and undermine the integrity of fair competition in the operation of the free market,” he added.
FBI Director James Comey said for too long, the Chinese government has blatantly sought to use cyber espionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries.