The Justice Department unsealed an indictment on Monday charging five members of China’s People’s Liberations Army with committing cyberattacks. Though the move is mostly symbolic—extradition by the Chinese government is highly unlikely—it is the first time that foreign state employees have been charged with hacking.
The accused allegedly stole corporate intelligence from American industrial companies including U.S. Steel and Westinghouse Electric. According to The New York Times, “In one instance, the hackers broke into Westinghouse’s network to learn the company’s strategy for negotiating with one of China’s state-owned enterprises.”
Chinese officials quickly rebutted the indictment. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, “The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cyber theft of trade secrets.” He called the accusations "purely ungrounded and absurd.”
All five defendants were charged with the same 31 counts of criminal activity. If found guilty on all counts, they would face a maximum of 227 years, but again, this case is almost definitely never going to trial.
On Tuesday morning in China, the Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus, urging him to cancel the charges against the military officers.