WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States has brought first-of-its kind cyber-espionage charges against five Chinese military officials accused of hacking into U.S. companies to gain trade secrets.
Attorney General Eric Holder says Chinese military officials hacked into six U.S. nuclear power, metals and solar products industries. The hackers are accused of stealing trade secrets and economic espionage.
Holder says the companies affected are Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse Electric Co., Allegheny Technologies, U.S. Steel Corp., United Steelworkers Union, and SolarWorld.
The charges have been described as unprecedented and dramatize a long-time Obama administration goal to prosecute state-sponsored cyber threats.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. will not tolerate foreign government efforts to sabotage American companies.
U.S. officials have accused China’s army and China-based hackers of launching attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property. China has said that it faces a major threat from hackers, and the country’s military is believed to be among the biggest targets of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.
Last September, President Barack Obama discussed cybersecurity issues on the sidelines of a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said at the time that Obama had addressed concerns about cyber threats emanating from China. He said Obama told Xi the U.S. sees it not through the prism of security but out of concern over theft of trade secrets.
In late March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed that the Pentagon planned to more than triple its cybersecurity staff in the next few years to defend against Internet attacks that threaten national security.
Hagel’s comments at the National Security Agency headquarters in suburban Washington came as he prepared to visit China.
“Our nation’s reliance on cyberspace outpaces our cybersecurity,” Hagel said at the time. “Our nation confronts the proliferation of destructive malware and a new reality of steady, ongoing and aggressive efforts to probe, access or disrupt public and private networks, and the industrial control systems that manage our water, and our energy and our food supplies.”