DOJ charges five members of Chinese army with hacking US groups

The defendants stole trade secrets from Westinghouse Electric, United States Steel and other companies, the DOJ says

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged five supposed members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army with hacking into computers and stealing trade secrets from six U.S. organizations in the nuclear power, steel and solar industries, the agency announced Monday.

The charges, stemming from grand jury indictments in Pennsylvania, are the first time the DOJ has filed hacking charges against so-called state actors, Attorney General Eric Holder said during a press conference. The computer hacking, targeting Westinghouse Electric, United States Steel, subsidiaries of SolarWorld, and other organizations between 2006 and this year, focused on those organizations in an effort to provide the stolen information to Chinese companies, Holder said.

"The range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant and demands an aggressive response," Holder added. "The alleged hacking appears to have been conducted for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China, at the expense of businesses here in the United States."

The charges should "serve as a notice" that the DOJ takes state-sponsored cybertheft seriously, Holder added. "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 said.

Such hacking leads to lost U.S. jobs, said David Hickton, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. "The important message is cybertheft impacts real people in real and painful ways," he said. "When these cyberintrusions occur, production slows, workers get laid off and lose their homes. This 21st century burglary has to stop."

Holder said he hopes the Chinese government will honor the indictments and allow the DOJ to bring the defendants to face their charges in U.S. court.

Facing charges in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania are Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui, alleged to have been officers in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.  The indictment alleges that Wang, Sun, and Wen, among others, hacked or attempted to hack into U.S. organizations, while Huang and Gu supported their conspiracy by managing infrastructure used for hacking.

The defendants each face 31 charges, including economic espionage, with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison; conspiring to commit computer fraud and abuse, a 10-year sentence; and trade secret theft, also 10 years.

Other organizations named as victims were Allegheny Technologies, Alcoa, and the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW), a union representing steelworkers and other trades.

In some cases, the victim companies were involved in trade disputes with China or joint ventures with Chinese companies. The steelworkers' union, in 2012, was involved in public disputes over Chinese trade practices involving two industries. At around the time of the disputes, Wen allegedly stole emails from senior USW employees containing sensitive, nonpublic information about USW strategies, including strategies related to pending trade disputes, the DOJ alleged.

Representatives of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on the charges.

Heading off potential criticism that the U.S. government also engages in surveillance, Holder denied that it engages in cyberespionage on behalf of U.S. business interests. "This is a tactic that the U.S. government categorically denounces. As President Obama has said on numerous occasions, we do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies, or U.S. commercial sectors," he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Gu ChunhuDavid HicktonEric HolderChinese People's Liberation ArmyExploits / vulnerabilitiesU.S. District Court for the Western District of PennsylvaniaHuang ZhenyuWestinghouse ElectricSolarWorldsecurityWen XinyulegalgovernmentUnited States SteelSun KailiangcybercrimeU.S. Department of JusticeWang Dong

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?