The United States government has taken the extraordinary step of indicting five Chinese citizens who are officers in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with hacking.
A grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania indicted the five Chinese military hackers for computer hacking, economic espionage and other offenses directed at six American victims in the U.S. nuclear power, metals and solar products industries. Those alleged victims are Westinghouse Electric Co.; U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG; United States Steel Corp.; Allegheny Technologies Inc.; the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union; and Alcoa Inc.
The indictment alleges that the defendants conspired to hack into American entities, to maintain unauthorized access to their computers and to steal information from those entities that would be useful to their competitors in China, including state-owned enterprises. 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.
“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,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.
An indictment is merely an accusation and a defendant in the United States is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.
The FBI says it conducted the investigation that led to the charges in the indictment. This case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division Counterespionage Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania. No date for a court case has been set.