U.S. Charges China With Hacking Half A Dozen American Companies

The United States Justice Department has brought forth criminal charges against several members of Unit 61398 of the Chinese military, alleging that these members hacked into computer systems of six American businesses, including Alcoa Inc., United States Steel Crop, Allegheny Technologies Inc, Westinghouse Electric Co, and SolarWorld AG.

What makes this especially significant is that it's the first time the U.S. has gone public with cyber spying charges.

"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," the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. "For the first time, we are exposing the faces and names behind the keyboards in Shanghai used to steal from American businesses. This indictment describes, with particularity, specific actions on specific days by specific actors to use their computers to steal information from across our economy."

PLA Tanks
Image Source: Flickr (Dan)

The U.S. Justice Department alleges that the indicted members hacked into SolarWind and stole cost, pricing, and strategy information from the company's computers right around the time SolarWind's market share was being rapidly lost to Chinese competitors.

"And while Westinghouse was negotiating with a Chinese state-owned enterprise over the construction of nuclear power plants, the hackers stole trade secret designs for components of those plants. To be clear, this conduct is criminal," the U.S. Justice Department added.

In total there are 31 counts of various charges, penalties of which range from 2 years to 15 years per count. The charges are symbolic in that China is unlikely to send the accused to the U.S. to stand trial, though they do prevent the accused from setting foot in the U.S. or any countries that currently have an extradition agreement with the U.S.

The defendants include Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui, all of which were officers in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).