United States indicts Chinese military officers for economic espionage.


Five Chinese military officers were indicted in U.S. federal district court on May 1,2014. (1) The U.S. Department of Justice alleged that the officers had been hacking U.S. businesses for eight years from a People's Liberation Army site in Shanghai. (2) The indictment marked the first time that state actors have been charged in a U.S. court for a cyberattack on private targets. (3) At a press conference, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that the U.S. government "categorically denounces" economic espionage and "do[es] not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies, or U.S. commercial sectors." (4) He described the indictment as a "significant" case that "demands [an] aggressive response" and hoped that it would "serve as a wake-up call" on the threat posed by hackers. (5)

According to the indictment, the Chinese officers were affiliated with a signals intelligence division of the People's Liberation Army, known as Unit 61398, based in Shanghai. (6) This unit, housed in a nondescript office building in suburban Shanghai, was first publicly identified in February 2013 by a private computer security firm, although U.S. intelligence officials reportedly had been monitoring the unit for years. (7) According to press reports, widespread hacking attacks on corporate targets in the United States were traced back to the military offices in Shanghai and had provided the Chinese government with a wealth of proprietary business data and access to critical U.S. infrastructure. (8) The U.S. administration had announced in February 2013 several new "initiatives to combat cyberattacks on critical U.S. infrastructure and to stop the theft of trade secrets." (9)

In May 2014, the Department of Justice indictment charged the five Unit 61398 defendants with, inter alia, economic espionage and theft: of trade secrets. (10) The indictment described in detail a series of hacking attacks between 2006 and 2014, primarily targeting companies with significant operations in the Pittsburgh area. (11) Prosecutors identified six key victims, including a nuclear power plant operator, a solar products manufacturer, steel and aluminum companies, a specialty metals manufacturer, and a union that had vocally opposed Chinese trade practices. (12) All six were engaged in partnerships or trade conflicts with Chinese businesses when they were attacked. (13) Three of the five Chinese officers were accused of executing the hacking attacks to steal emails and other data, while the remaining two played...

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