A US grand jury has indicted five Chinese individuals with cyber espionage charges for allegedly targeting six American companies and stealing trade secrets, the US Justice Department said, publicly accusing China of cyber spying for the first time.
The hackers targeted US companies in the nuclear power, metals and solar products industries to steal information useful to competitors in China, the department said on Monday.
The companies targeted include Alcoa Inc, United States Steel Corp, Allegheny Technologies Inc, Westinghouse Electric Co and U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG, US officials said.
The hackers also targeted United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied-Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW), officials said.
The hackers targeted US companies in the nuclear power, metals and solar products industries to steal information useful to competitors in China, the department said.
More details were expected at a news conference later Monday with Attorney General Eric Holder and other US officials.
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 University.
American officials have long been concerned about hacking from abroad, especially 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.
Such charges, however, are symbolic but the move would prevent the individuals indicted from traveling to the United States or other countries that have an extradition agreement with the United States.