US charges Chinese military officials with hacking

This wanted poster was displayed at the Justice Department in Washington, yesterday.
This wanted poster was displayed at the Justice Department in Washington, yesterday.

A US grand jury has brought espionage charges against five Chinese military officials for allegedly targeting six US companies and stealing trade secrets, 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 companies targeted include Alcoa Inc, United States Steel Corp, Allegheny Technologies Inc, Westinghouse Electric Co, and US 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 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 travelling to the United States or other countries that have an extradition agreement with the United States.

“It sends a strong message to the Chinese,” a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International s, James Lewis, said.

Other experts remained sceptical the move would deter online invasions.

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