WASHINGTON: The United States yesterday charged five members of a shadowy Chinese military unit for allegedly stealing trade secrets as it vowed to ramp up the fight against hacking.
In the first-ever prosecution of state actors over cyber-espionage, a federal grand jury indicted the five on charges they broke into US computers to benefit Chinese state-owned companies, leading to job losses in the United States in steel, solar and other industries.
Attorney General Eric Holder called on China to hand over the five men for trial in the steel city of Pittsburgh and said the United States would use “all the means that are available to us” if, as expected, Beijing refuses.
President Barack Obama’s administration “will not tolerate actions by any nation that seek to illegally sabotage American companies and undermine the integrity of fair competition,” Holder told reporters. “This case should serve as a wake-up call to the seriousness of the ongoing cyber threat,” Holder told reporters.
The grand jury indicted each of the five — Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu and Gu Chunhui — on 31 counts, which each carry penalties of up to 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors said that the five officers belonged to Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army. A report last year by security firm Mandiant said that the unit had thousands of workers operating out of a non-descript, 12-story building on the outskirts of Shanghai where they pilfer intellectual property and government secrets.
US officials said they investigated the unit for several years and believed that the hacking had contributed to “substantial” job and profit losses in the United States.
Hackers stole secret designs from Westinghouse, the US nuclear plant giant owned by Japan’s Toshiba, just as it was negotiating with a Chinese state-owned company, said John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security. AFP