WASHINGTON — The U.S. accused Chinese military officials of hacking into several U.S. enterprises, including Westinghouse and U.S. Steel, to steal "significant" amounts of trade secrets and intellectual property in an indictment made public Monday.
It is the first time the U.S. has charged a state actor in a criminal cyber espionage case.
The Chinese hackers, using military and intelligence resources, downloaded massive amounts of industrial information, including strategic plans, from U.S. businesses, the indictment said. In addition to Westinghouse Electrict and U.S. Steel, victims included SolarWorld, United Steel Workers Union, Allegheny Technologies Incorporated and Alcoa.
The indictment, out of western Pennsylvania, charges five military "hackers," officers in the Chinese People's Liberation Army, with directing a conspiracy to steal information from six American companies in critical industries, including nuclear power, solar power and metals.
Federal authorities allegedly traced hackers to a single building in Shanghai. The hacking allegedly began in 2006 and continued until last month, federal authorities said.
Attorney General Eric Holder called it a case of "economic espionage."
The case "represents the first ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking," Holder said. "The range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant and demands an aggressive response."
Holder said the Chinese hackers stole information that would give Chinese competitors with insight into "the strategy and vulnerabilities" of the American companies.
"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," Holder said. "Our economic security and our ability to compete fairly in the global marketplace are directly linked to our national security."