What is PLA Unit 61398 and who are the five Chinese hackers?

Malware

by Ben Sullivan| 20 May 2014

US indicts Chinese military cyber troops alleged to have stole industrial information.

US authorities have indicted five Chinese military officers with cyber espionage charges yesterday for allegedly targeting American companies and stealing information for commercial advantage.

In the country's first ever hacking case brought against individuals working for the government, it is said that the hackers targeted nuclear power plants, metals and solar products industries to steal information for Chinese competitors.

Yesterday, US attorney general John Carlin said: "We allege that members of unit 61398 conspired to hack into computers of six US victims to steal information that would provide an economic advantage to the victims' competitors, including Chinese state-owned enterprises."

The indictment referenced Chinese Army officers Gu Chunhui, Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, and Huang Zhenyu, The five men are members of a military arm called Unit 61398.

"In the past, when we brought concerns such as these to Chinese government officials, they responded by publicly challenging us to provide hard evidence of their hacking that could stand up in court. Well today, we are," said Carlin.

China has responded the allegations, denying the charges and calling them "purely ungrounded and absurd."

"This U.S. move, which is based on fabricated facts, grossly violates the basic norms governing international relations and jeopardizes China-U.S. cooperation and mutual trust," said Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang. "The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cyber theft of trade secrets.

"It is a fact known to all that relevant U.S. institutions have long been involved in large-scale and organized cyber theft as well as wiretapping and surveillance activities against foreign political leaders, companies and individuals," he said.

"China is a victim of severe U.S. cyber theft, wiretapping and surveillance activities."

However, Bob West, chief trust officer at US cloud security firm CipherCloud, said: "The US government is toughening up its language against nation-state and industrial cyber-espionage. We're calling out the Chinese government for its role fostering theft of American intellectual property and doing it by naming specific hackers with military ties.

"The US government isn't trying to provide the private sector with competitive advantage, which is clearly the case with China's spying activities."

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