Washington: In the first-ever charges against known state actors, the US on Monday indicted five officers of China`s powerful military for serious cybersecurity 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.
"The indictment announced today is an important step. But there are many more victims, and there is much more to be done. With our unique criminal and national security authorities, we will continue to use all legal tools at our disposal to counter cyber espionage from all sources," Comey said.
"State actors engaged in cyber espionage for economic advantages are not immune from the law just because they hack under the shadow of their country`s flag," said John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
"Cyber theft is real theft and we will hold state sponsored cyber thieves accountable as we would any other transnational criminal organization that steals our goods and breaks our laws," he added.
"The threat is from members of unit 61398 of the Chinese military, who have targeted the US private sector for commercial advantage," he said.
"We allege that members of unit 61398 conspired to hack into computers of six US victims to steal information that would provide an economic advantage to the victims` competitors, including Chinese state-owned enterprises," he added.
"In the past, when we brought concerns such as these to Chinese government officials, they responded by publicly challenging us to provide hard evidence of their hacking that could stand up in court. Well today, we are. For the first time, we are exposing the faces and names behind the keyboards in Shanghai used to steal from American businesses," Carlin said.
"This indictment describes, with particularity, specific actions on specific days by specific actors to use their computers to steal information from across our economy," Carlin said.