WASHINGTON—The United States on Monday brought a first-of-its kind cyber-espionage case against five Chinese military officials accused of hacking into U.S. companies to gain trade secrets.
According to the indictment, hackers targeted the U.S. nuclear power, metals and solar products industries and are accused of economic espionage and stealing trade secrets.
The victims are Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse Electric Co., Allegheny Technologies, U.S. Steel Corp., United Steelworkers Union, and SolarWorld, Attorney General Eric Holder said.
“The alleged hacking appears to have been conducted for no other reason than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China at the expense of businesses here in the United States,” Holder told a news conference at the Justice Department. “This is a tactic that the United States government categorically denounces.”
“This is the new normal. This is what you’re going to see on a recurring basis,” said Bob Anderson Jr., executive assistant director of the FBI’s criminal, cyber response and services division.
In a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. charges were based on “fabricated facts” and jeopardizes China-U.S. “co-operation and mutual trust.”
U.S. officials have previously asserted that China’s army and China-based hackers had launched 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.
The hackers allegedly stole emails and other communications that could have helped Chinese firms learn the strategies and weaknesses of American companies involved in litigation with the Chinese government or Chinese firms.
Despite the ominous-sounding allegations, 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 Monica Orbe, Alcoa’s director of corporate affairs. “Safeguarding our data is a top priority for Alcoa, and we continue to invest resources to protect our systems.”
Associated Press reporters Matthew Pennington in Washington, Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh and Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this story.