recommended reading

The US Indictment of Five Chinese Army Officers Is Really About Redefining “Cyberspying”

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that a U.S. grand jury has charged five Chinese military hackers with economic espionage and trade secret theft.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that a U.S. grand jury has charged five Chinese military hackers with economic espionage and trade secret theft. // Charles Dharapak/AP

The US government has indicted five Chinese military officialsfor hacking Western companies and stealing their trade secrets—”the fruits of our labor,” in the words of assistant US attorney John Carlin. The lawsuit is unprecedented (pdf)—the first ever brought against individual members of a government for economic espionage via hacking. And, legally speaking, it’s pretty pointless.

US law requires criminal defendants to be present to actually have a trial. And there’s no way the Chinese government will let five of its soldiers see the inside of the Western District of Pennsylvania courtroom, where the indictment was unsealed. So what’s the Justice Department playing at?

Duncan Hollis, professor and associate dean at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, says the move highlights the question of whether some types of cyberspying are worse than others—a touchy debate for Washington in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about rampant US government spying.

“The US wants the Chinese to limit how much cyberspying they’re doing but it’s a hard line to draw because, post-Snowden, the US can’t say ‘no spying,’” Hollis tells Quartz. “Now, the US seems to suggest that it only uses that data for national security purposes, whereas the Chinese have been using it in a way that’s been having pretty significant economic consequences.”

Have you seen these men?Screenshot of the Federal Bureau of Investigation webiste

Those alleged consequences include a litany of offenses ranging from “economic espionage” and to “aggravated identity theft.” Take, for example, the accusations against Wen Xinyu, a.k.a. “WinXYHappy,” who stands accused of stealing a solar company’s internal financial data and pilfering of network credentials for nearly every employee at Allegheny Technologies Inc., a US company involved in a 2012 trade dispute with a Chinese company.

The suit’s “victims”—which, in addition to ATI, include Westinghouse Electric, the US unit of SolarWorld AG, United States Steel Corp, Alcoa Inc. and the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial Services Workers International Union—were all been working with or competing against Chinese state-owned companies or government-favored industries. 

Though these alleged attacks may, as US government officials implied, have cost American jobs, the push to define the relative degrees of cyberspying nefariousness might not be all that persuasive abroad, says Adam Segal, a senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations.

“[US Attorney General Eric] Holder tried in his introductory statements to say ‘we’re going after economic espionage,’ and the US continually says we don’t engage in that,” Segal tells Quartz. “But Huawei and Petrobras [foreign companies the US government's been caught spying on] are clearly economic targets. So I don’t see [this latest effort] gaining traction internationally.”

Reprinted with permission from Quartz. The original story can be found here

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.