On Monday, the Obama administration finally went ahead and formally charged five Chinese government officials with coordinating cyberattacks against six major American companies — marking the first time the U.S. has specifically called out hackers acting on explicit orders from a foreign government. Here’s the official statement from the FBI:
WASHINGTON—A grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania (WDPA) indicted five Chinese military hackers for computer hacking, economic espionage, and other offenses directed at six American victims in the U.S. nuclear power, metals, and solar products industries.
The indictment alleges that the defendants conspired to hack into American entities to maintain unauthorized access to their computers and to steal information from those entities that would be useful to their competitors in China, including state-owned enterprises (SOEs). In some cases, it alleges, the conspirators stole trade secrets that would have been particularly beneficial to Chinese companies at the time they were stolen. In other cases, it alleges, the conspirators also stole sensitive, internal communications that would provide a competitor, or an adversary in litigation, with insight into the strategy and vulnerabilities of the American entity.
“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,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. “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. This administration will not tolerate actions by any nation that seeks to illegally sabotage American companies and undermine the integrity of fair competition in the operation of the free market.”
And of course, on cue, here come the protestations of the communist party officials who believe themselves fundamentally incapable of any sort of breach of international ethics:
Chinese government officials on Monday strongly rebuked the U.S. over its claims of cyber-spying by five Chinese military officers, saying the Justice Department indictment was based on “fabricated facts” and would jeopardize U.S.-China relations.
“The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cyber theft of trade secrets,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang said in a statement. “The U.S. accusation against Chinese personnel is purely ungrounded and absurd.”
The Chinese government demanded that the U.S. indictment, unsealed Monday, be withdrawn. Chinese officials also said they would suspend activities of the China-U.S. Cyber Working Group, created last year to address allegations of hacking. …
“Well today, we are” providing proof, said John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security. “For the first time, we are exposing the faces and names behind the keyboards in Shanghai used to steal from American businesses.”
Puh-lease. China has been all up in our cyber-grill spying on both our national security and commercial systems for ages now — and I suppose that the Obama administration at least saying something on the record about it is certainly better than doing absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, however, it is practically speaking a pretty mild gesture, and while it may escalate some already-escalating tensions, it won’t amount to anything in the way of getting the Chinese to actually back off of the espionage: