US Attorney General Eric Holder announces the indictments
of five Chinese nationals on cyber espionage charges during
a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington.
A US grand jury has indicted five Chinese military
officers on charges of hacking into American companies for
information on nuclear plant design, solar manufacturing and
other secrets in the toughest action taken by Washington to
address cyber spying.
China denied the charges, saying they were "made up" and
would damage trust between the two nations. The Chinese
foreign ministry said it would suspend the activities of a
Sino-US Internet working group.
Officials in Washington have argued for years that cyber
espionage is one of the nation's top national security
concerns because foreign hackers have stolen secrets from
defense contractors and technology secrets that could pose a
threat to US prosperity.
Yet the indictments mark the first time the United States has
filed charges against specific officials of foreign
governments, accusing them of corporate cyber spying.
"When a foreign nation uses military or intelligence
resources and tools against an American executive or
corporation to obtain trade secrets or sensitive business
information for the benefit of its state-owned companies, we
must say, 'enough is enough,'" US Attorney General Eric
Holder said at a press conference.
Washington announced the charges as new claims emerged last
week about the scope of overseas spying by the United States.
Cisco Systems Inc responded by asking President Barack Obama
to curtail government surveillance programs.
Federal prosecutors said the suspects targeted companies in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the nuclear power, metal and
solar energy industries.
Targets included Alcoa Inc, Allegheny Technologies Inc,
United States Steel Corp, Westinghouse Electric Co, US
subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG and a steel workers' union,
Department of Justice officials said.
Officials declined to estimate the size of the losses to the
US companies at issue, but said they were "significant."
Some of the companies gave their response to the indictments.
"We are happy that the American government is taking the
initiative now and we support the US authorities'
investigations to investigate this under criminal law,"
SolarWorld CEO Frank Asbeck said in a statement.
Alcoa spokeswoman Monica Orbe said: "To our knowledge, no
material information was compromised."
US Steel declined to comment.
The move "indicates that DOJ has 'smoking keyboards' and (is)
willing to bring the evidence to a court of law and be more
transparent," said Frank Cilluffo, head of the Homeland
Security Policy Institute at the George Washington
American businesses have long urged the government to act
against cyber espionage from abroad, particularly by China.
Secret US State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks
traced major systems breaches to China, Reuters reported in
2011. One 2009 cable pinpointed attacks to a specific unit of
China's People's Liberation Army.
Skeptics said US authorities wouldn't be able to arrest those
indicted as Beijing would not hand them over. Still, the move
would prevent the individuals from traveling to the United
States or other countries that have an extradition agreement
with the United States.
"It won't slow China down," said Eric Johnson, dean of the
business school at Vanderbilt University and an expert on
cyber security issues.
Experts said the indictments would have some impact on those
accused of hacking US companies.
Stewart Baker, a former NSA attorney, said the hackers named
in the indictments might have trouble getting jobs in China's
private sector when they move on from employment with the
People's Liberation Army.
"In the long run, it could even hurt your employability in
China, because US government is going to look askance at
Chinese firms that hire former cyber spies," said Baker, a
partner with Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
In an indictment filed in the Western District of
Pennsylvania, prosecutors said the officers hacked into
computers starting in 2006, often by infecting machines with
tainted "spear phishing" emails to employees that purport to
be from colleagues.
Prosecutors alleged that one hacker, for example, stole cost
and pricing information in 2012 from an Oregon-based solar
panel production unit of SolarWorld. The company was losing
market share at the time to Chinese competitors who were
systematically pricing exports below production costs,
according to the indictment.
Another officer is accused of stealing technical and design
specifications about pipes for nuclear plants from
Westinghouse Electric Co as the company was negotiating with
a Chinese company to build four power plants in China,