Remember the Mandiant report that highlighted an advanced hacking threat from inside of China, presumed to be tied to that country’s military? Today the U.S. government announced an indictment of “unit 61398,” indicating that actors from the group “conspired to hack into computers of six U.S. victims to steal information that would provide an economic advantage to the victims’ competitors, including Chinese state-owned enterprises.”
The indictment comes at a difficult time for the United States government, as the NSA has been called down for interdicting shipments of hardware to foreign customers, not to mention espionage that has a stated economic and political bent (the Department of Commerce is, according to Glenn Greenwald, an NSA “customer“).
Pot calling the kettle and all that, the U.S. government has a few specific allegations that are worth reading:
Right about the time SolarWorld was rapidly losing its market share to Chinese competitors that were pricing exports well below costs, these hackers were stealing cost, pricing, and strategy information from SolarWorld’s computers.
And while Westinghouse was negotiating with a Chinese state-owned enterprise over the construction of nuclear power plants, the hackers stole trade secret designs for components of those plants.
The DOJ calls the actions “criminal.” That’s correct, but sticky given that the now politely infamous NSA leaker Edward Snowden has directly alleged that the NSA engages in “industrial surveillance,” and a recently released slide (page 48) revealing of a week’s worth of PRISM activity indicates that collected information included topics such as “energy” in Mexico, “trade” in Israel, and “oil” in Venezuela.
The Chinese government has denied the allegations, which also involve Alcoa and the U.S. United Steelworkers union.
Whatever the case, government powers hacking private and publicly owned companies for economic edge distorts the global market and could very well lead to a resting state of constant cyber warfare that would only leave us all less secure.
The Department of Justice promises to “pursue” those who “steal our intellectual property, no matter who they are or where they reside.”