Cyber espionage victim wants US to investigate China

SolarWorld’s filing with Commerce Department seeks information on how Chinese solar companies benefited from cyber spying.

In filings yesterday with the Commerce Department, solar products manufacturer SolarWorld has requested an investigation into the trade implications of the Chinese military’s cyber espionage on the company. While cyber espionage is commonly regarded as a pervasive and serious problem, the immediate effects of spying are sometimes not as obvious.

SolarWorld was one of five companies that were allegedly spied upon by members of the Chinese military, according to a Justice Department indictment filed this May. The indictment, which charged five Chinese military officials with cyber espionage, represents the first time that the US has filed formal cyber spying accusations against a foreign country.

According to the indictment, Chinese military hackers retrieved thousands of emails containing trade-litigation, research and development, financial, and production information from SolarWorld between May and September 2012. Some of the documents contained propriety corporate data under special confidentiality protections, said a SolarWorld release.

The U.S. arm of the company, which is headquartered in Germany, is asking that the Commerce Department question the Chinese government with regard to how Chinese solar companies benefitted from the espionage, and to review trade cases and sanctions against China. More specifically, SolarWorld is seeking information about what documents were obtained by the hackers and a list of entities that received the information, according to Reuters.  

At the time of the hacking, SolarWorld was an active litigant in several trade cases against Chinese solar producers that it said had received unfair subsidies from China and had dumped large quantities of underpriced goods to undercut competitors and drive American companies out of business. The cases resulted in the U.S. government imposing an average of 31 percent duties on Chinese solar imports.

SolarWorld, which is representing the entire U.S. solar manufacturing industry in the filing, is looking to bring about a second set of trade cases against Chinese producers that use Taiwan as a loophole to circumvent those duties. The company said that cyber espionage has had a direct bearing on these cases.

China continues to deny any involvement in cyber espionage operations and asserts that its own networks are under attack by the United States. The Chinese government wants the United States to revoke Justice’s indictment and, in response to the indictment, recently shut down a U.S.-China cyber working group.   

For defense and intelligence officials, cyberattacks on private industry represents as much as a national security threat as attacks on government entities.  Intellectual property theft itself has cost U.S. companies $250 billion an year. Meanwhile, protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure from cyber-attacks remains high on DOD’s priorities.