A grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania has indicted Chinese military hackers for computer hacking, economic espionage and other offenses directed at a solar products manufacturer in America.

The indictments, the first time criminal charges have been filed against known state actors for hacking received wide spread attention earlier this week. And while the mainstream media described the U.S. corporate victims as in the nuclear power and metals industries and a labor organization, scant attention has been paid to the fact that one of the businesses is a solar panel manufacturer. 

The indictment made public this past Monday, alleges that Wen Xinyu, one of five named defendants, who is officer in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, hacked the computers of U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG several times to glean its strategy in a trade dispute with China.

In 2012, at about the same time the Commerce Department found that Chinese solar product manufacturers had “dumped” products into U.S. markets at prices below fair value, Wen and at least one other, unidentified co-conspirator, stole thousands of files including information about SolarWorld’s cash flow, manufacturing metrics, production line information, costs, and privileged attorney-client communications relating to ongoing trade litigation, among other things. The information enabled Chinese competitors to target SolarWorld’s business operations aggressively from a variety of angles.

On February 5, 2014, Frank H. Asbeck, founder and CEO of SolarWorld, issued an open letter to President Barack Obama requesting his “support for both the U.S. manufacturing and installation wings of the domestic solar industry as they confront trade aggression from China.”

I had written in a blog post last October, Bankruptcy Trustee Sues Chinese Over Solar Panel Dumping, about a case filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan, claiming the object of the Chinese state owned companies’ illegal dumping actions was to drive established solar industry leader, Energy Conversion Devices, out of business.

“For too long, the Chinese government has blatantly sought to use cyber espionage to obtain economic advantage for its state-owned industries,” said FBI Director James B. Comey.  “There are many more victims, and there is much more to be done.  With our unique criminal and national security authorities, we will continue to use all legal tools at our disposal to counter cyber espionage from all sources.” 

This criminal case charging five Chinese military officers should be a wakeup call to all; not only have Alcoa, Westinghouse, and U.S Steel been damaged, but every U.S. business and homeowner with solar panels on a roof has been a victim of Chinese economic espionage.