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The Department of Justice has announced the indictment of five Chinese military officials for criminal hacking, economic espionage and other offenses committed from 2006 to 2014 targeting organizations in the nuclear power, metals and solar products industries in the first case ever where criminal charges have been filed against state-actors.

“Today, we are announcing an indictment against five officers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for serious cybersecurity breaches against six American victim entities. These represent the first ever charges against known state actors for infiltrating U.S. commercial targets by cyber means,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

“A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh has found that these five Chinese military officers conspired together, and with others, to hack into the computers of organizations in Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the United States.”

The indictment alleges that the five members of the PLA gained unauthorized access to systems belonging to Westinghouse Electric, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, U.S. Steel, the United Steelworkers Union and SolarWorld in an effort to steal proprietary intellectual property in order to gain a competitive economic advantage for Chinese firms.

“In some cases, they stole trade secrets that would have been particularly beneficial to Chinese companies at the time they were stolen. In others, they stole sensitive, internal communications that would provide a competitor, or adversary in litigation, with insight into the strategy and vulnerabilities of the American entity,” Holder said.

“In sum, 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 defendants have been identified as being Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu – all charged with hacking – and Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui – charged with conspiracy – all of whom were officers in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the PLA.

“For too long, the Chinese government has blatantly sought to use cyber espionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries,” said FBI Director James B. Comey.  “The indictment announced today is an important step.  But there are many more victims, and there is much more to be done.  With our unique criminal and national security authorities, we will continue to use all legal tools at our disposal to counter cyber espionage from all sources.”

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