US charges Chinese officials in cyberspying case

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 19, 2014 at 9:46 pm •  Published: May 19, 2014
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"These five people were just doing their jobs. It's just that we object to what their jobs are," said Mark Rasch, a former U.S. cybercrimes prosecutor. "We have tens of thousands of dedicated, hard-working Americans who are just doing their jobs, too."

The indictment says the hackers, officers with China's People's Liberation Army, stole proprietary information from the companies and the labor union, including design specification for Westinghouse pipes and pricing and strategy information from SolarWorld. Working from a building in Shanghai, prosecutors say, the hackers in some cases gained access to networks by sending emails to company employees that looked authentic but that actually contained a link to malicious code.

The defendants are believed to be in China and it was unclear whether any might ever be turned over to the U.S. for prosecution. But the Justice Department, publicizing the charges, identified all five by name and issued "wanted" posters.

"For the first time, we are exposing the faces and names behind the keyboards in Shanghai used to steal from American businesses," said John Carlin, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

U.S. officials have previously asserted that China's army and other China-based hackers have launched computer attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property. The Chinese say that actually they are the ones who face 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.

The new indictment will put a greater strain on the U.S.-China relationship and could provoke retaliatory acts in China or elsewhere, experts say.

"What we can expect to happen is for the Chinese government to indict individuals in the United States who they will accuse of hacking into computers there," said Rasch, the cybersecurity expert. "Everybody now is going to jump into the act, using their own criminal laws to go after what other countries are doing."

In recent months, Washington has been increasingly critical of what it describes as provocative Chinese actions in pursuit of territorial claims in disputed seas in East Asia. Beijing complains that the Obama administration's attempt to redirect its foreign policy toward Asia after a decade of war in the Middle East is emboldening China's neighbors and causing tension.

"If we were trying to make things smoother in this region, this isn't going to help," said Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist at FireEye, a network security company.

Despite the ominous-sounding allegations, at least one of the firms minimized the hacking. Monica Orbe, Alcoa's director of corporate affairs, said the company believed no sensitive data had been compromised. A spokesperson for SolarWorld said the company was troubled by the allegations but that no customer information was breached.

Last September, President Barack Obama discussed cybersecurity issues on the sidelines of a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"China not only does not support hacking but also opposes it," Premier Li Keqiang said last year in a news conference when asked if China would stop hacking U.S. websites. "Let's not point fingers at each other without evidence, but do more to safeguard cyber security."

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Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington and Ted Bridis in Washington, Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh and Didi Tang and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.