US declares cyber war on China: Chinese military hackers charged with trying to steal secrets from companies including nuclear energy firm

Tensions between the two superpowers explode as a Pennsylvania court accuses military officials of trying to steal secrets from six companies, including a nuclear energy firm

Washington

A US grand jury has charged five Chinese military hackers with cyber espionage against US corporations in a landmark set of indictments.

In an unprecedented move, the US levelled criminal charges against five Chinese military officials on Monday, accused of masterminding government-led cyber hacking to steal trade secrets from six major American companies, operating in the key energy and metals  industries.

According to Attorney General Eric Holder, the targets were the nuclear power station manufacturer Westinghouse Electric, US Steel, Allegheny Technologies and Alcoa, as well as subsidiaries of SolarWorld, the US solar power group. The Chinese hackers also broke into computer networks of the United Steel Workers and other unions.

The US “will not tolerate foreign government efforts to sabotage American companies,” Mr Holder declared. The secrets stolen were “significant and demand an aggressive response”. They endangered US economic security, “which in turn is directly linked to our national security.” According to the indictments handed down by a grand jury in Pennsylvania – where most of the alleged victims are based – the five charged are officers in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who led a conspiracy to steal information. The 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,” Mr Holder said.

The charges, the first of their kind brought in the US against the direct representatives of a foreign government, are a culmination of years of US complaints about rampant Chinese computer spying, both industrial and military – highlighted in a landmark 2013 Pentagon report that accused Beijing of making cyber warfare a key part of its strategy as it jostles with the US for dominance in South-east Asia.

China said it would suspend the activities of the Sino-US internet working group in protest. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Sunday, saying a US grand jury indictment of five Chinese military officials was “made up” and would “damage Sino-American cooperation and mutual trust”.

“The Chinese government’s stance on Internet security is consistent and clear,” said the statement from spokesman Qin Gang, which urged “immediate rectification”.

“China is a staunch defender of network security, and the government, military and associated personnel have never engaged in online theft of trade secrets.”

A special focus has been a branch of the People’s Liberation Army, Unit 61398 of the PLA, that operates out of an unmarked office tower on a military base in a Shanghai suburb. Last year, the Virginia-based computer security consultants Mandiant issued a separate report claiming the unit had carried out 140 such cyber attacks since 2006.

It is unlikely the accused will ever appear in a US court. But at the very least they will be unable to go to the US. More important, the charges will increase tensions between the two countries, when China’s fast-growing military and its territorial claims in the South China Sea are causing major friction with key US allies, including the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam.

China, however, proclaims its innocence, and maintains that the real culprit is the US. As proof, it points to the sensational leaks by the former National Security Agency worker Edward Snowden. The Snowden revelations, of global eavesdropping by the NSA, came almost at the very moment President Obama was pressing the Chinese leader Xi Jinping to rein in cyber espionage in June 2013.

At least one of the firms downplayed the hacking. “To our knowledge, no  material information was compromised during this incident, which occurred several years ago,” said Alcoa’s Monica Orbe.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang said last year: “China not only does not support hacking but opposes it.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Training and Development Consultant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This software development organisation are loo...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Designer - UI / UX Design

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Designer is required to j...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Marketing Executive i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable