In a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. charges were based on “fabricated facts” and jeopardize China-U.S. “cooperation and mutual trust.”
“China is steadfast in upholding cybersecurity,” said the statement. “The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cybertheft of trade secrets. The U.S. accusation against Chinese personnel is purely ungrounded and absurd.”
The indictment says that five hackers — members of the People’s Liberation Army — worked from a building in Shanghai to steal proprietary information from the companies and the labor union, including communications that could have helped Chinese firms learn strategies and weaknesses of American companies involved in litigation with the Chinese government or Chinese firms.
The defendants are all believed to be in China and it was unclear whether they would ever be turned over to the U.S. for prosecution. But the Justice Department, publicizing the charges, identified all five by name and issued “wanted” posters.
“For the first time, we are exposing the faces and names behind the keyboards in Shanghai used to steal from American businesses,” said John Carlin, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
U.S. officials have previously asserted that China’s army and China-based hackers have launched attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property. China has said that it is the nation that faces a major threat from hackers, and the country’s military is believed to be among the biggest targets of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.
The indictment will put a greater strain on the U.S.-China relationship and could provoke retaliatory acts in China or elsewhere.
“What we can expect to happen is for the Chinese government to indict individuals in the United States who they will accuse of hacking into computers there,” said Mark Rasch, a former U.S. cybercrimes prosecutor. “Everybody now is going to jump into the act, using their own criminal laws to go after what other countries are doing.”