A US grand jury has filed charges against five members of the Chinese military for hacking into US-based companies including SolarWorld Americas.

It is the first time cyber-security charges have been lodged against a foreign state.

According to a statement by the Department of Justice, Wen Xinyu, an officer in the People’s Liberation Army and co-conspirators, stole thousands of files from the US-based arm of SolarWorld.

“Wen and at least one other, unidentified co-conspirator stole thousands of files including information about SolarWorld’s cash flow, manufacturing metrics, production line information, costs, and privileged attorney-client communications relating to ongoing trade litigation, among other things,” according to the DoJ statement. The investigation was carried out by the FBI.

The theft is alleged to have occurred in 2012, shortly after the Department of Commerce ruled that Chinese manufacturers were guilty of dumping products in the US market.

SolarWorld initiated the trade investigation after petitioning the US government.

“This 21st century burglary has to stop,” said David Hickton, US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  “This prosecution vindicates hard working men and women in Western Pennsylvania and around the world who play by the rules and deserve a fair shot and a level playing field.”

This case is being prosecuted by the US Department of Justice’s National Security Division Counterespionage Section and the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

“This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military and represents the first ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking,” said Eric Holder, US Attorney General.  “The range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant and demands an aggressive response.  Success in the global market place should be based solely on a company’s ability to innovate and compete, not on a sponsor government’s ability to spy and steal business secrets,” he added.

Other industries allegedly targeted include nuclear power and metals.

“For too long, the Chinese government has blatantly sought to use cyber espionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries,” said FBI Director James B. Comey. “The indictment announced today is an important step. But there are many more victims, and there is much more to be done.”
 

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