Five members of the People's Liberation Army were indicted for stealing trade secrets.
Five members of the People's Liberation Army were indicted for stealing trade secrets.

The U.S. made a rare move to pursue foreign government employees by charging five Chinese nationals with committing economic espionage against Westinghouse, Alcoa , the U.S. Steelworkers' Union and other large U.S. companies and organizations, in a move that serves as a warning and a wakeup call for both state-sponsored hackers and the companies that they attack.

According to the Department of Justice, a grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania handed down 31 indictments against five officers of the Third Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) — Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui. 

At a Monday morning press conference, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the arrests “the first ever charges against known state actors for infiltrating U.S. commercial targets by cyber means.”

And in a statement sent via email correspondence to SCMagazine.com, Julian Waits, CEO at ThreatTrack Security, noted, “The cyber espionage indictment of Chinese state-sponsored hackers by U.S. federal law enforcement officials today signals the end of business-as-usual in how the U.S. government will handle breaches of intellectual property by foreign nations.”

Craig Carpenter, chief security strategist at AccessData, agreed, saying in a statement sent to SCMagazine.com that “the very fact these charges were brought at all signals a new era of highly public, government-vs-government allegation.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, at a Monday morning press conference in Washington called “the range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case” significant and said the alleged hacking demanded “an aggressive response.”

But that “aggressive response” has angered the Chinese government, which swiftly issued a statement through the Chinese Foreign Ministry, accusing the U.S. of “fabricating facts and using so-called stealing network secrets as an excuse.” The Ministry called the action a “serious violation of basic norms of international relations and damages Sino-U.S. cooperation and mutual trust.” As a result, China is putting a halt, at least temporarily, to the Sino-U.S. Internet Working Group activities” and has protested directly to the U.S., calling for the government to withdraw the indictment against the five men.