We’ve been talking about officially-sanctioned Chinese hacking for years. Whether the narrative involved offensive attacks on U.S. systems or industrial espionage, the “China threat” was a reliable talking point when discussing cybersecurity. Was the extent of the threat a little overblown? Sure. Hey, the Pentagon needed to spook some legislators into opening the pocketbook. But the idea that the Chinese government was trying diligently to hack into American systems was accurate.

And now the U.S. is doing something about it. It may not be much, but the Department of Justice is filing charges against five Chinese officials in the People’s Liberation Army (known as Unit 61398) for industrial espionage….

Per ABC News:

The officials, five in total, are tied to the Chinese military, sources say. Charging documents will accuse them of, among other things, stealing information related to a nuclear power plant and information from a company that made solar panels.

U.S. intelligence officials have long believed that the Chinese government has been engaged in a state-sponsored campaign to hack U.S. interests and steal research and development. U.S. officials insist such efforts affect national security.

A formal announcement is expected this morning in Washington from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, John Carlin, and others.

The charges will be filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania. It’s unclear why the U.S. government chose to file the charges in that district.

Solar panels? So that’s what happened to Solyndra![1] The Western District of Pennsylvania appears to be chosen because that’s where they caught China attacking:

Among the alleged victims were the United States Steel Corporation, Alcoa Inc, Allegheny Technologies, and a labour union, Reuters reported.

Westinghouse was also targeted. That’s a bevy of Pittsburgh businesses right there. Basically every critical trade secret in Pittsburgh unrelated to Troy Polamalu’s hair is tied to one of those companies.

Now China is never going to give these people up. Attorney General Holder’s press conference announcing the charges was laughable on this point, where he boldly stuck to the diplomatic talking point that we “expect” China to cooperate and turn over the charged individuals to face “due process.” It was cute. Because short of sending Batman over there, the Chinese Army is not sending any of its officers for pierogis.

So this is an entirely symbolic move. But as symbolic moves go, it’s a significant one. Poking China in the eye like this is a major diplomatic gambit. And it doesn’t sound like it’ll be an isolated one. “This is the new normal,” FBI Asst. Dir. Robert Anderson declared, explaining that we should expect to see more indictments like this on a weekly basis going forward.

It’s good to know they’ve been on top of the economic damage to U.S. business caused by five hackers. Imagine what they’d do if a whole bunch of people went out and demolished the economy? Oh right, nothing.

US to Charge Chinese Officials in Hack Attack Thefts [ABC News]
US justice department charges Chinese with hacking [BBC News]



[1] OK, it was actually a company called SolarWorld.


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