SolarWorld, a solar panel manufacturer with its U.S. operation in Hillsboro, Oregon, is among the companies listed as victims in an alleged cyberspying campaign carried out by the Chinese government.
The U.S. Department of Justice Monday filed criminal charges accusing five Chinese government officials of using military and intelligence to steal trade secrets from U.S. companies. The indictment is the first against a foreign government body in connection to allegations of cyberspying.
The indictment states that one of the defendants, Lao Wen, hacked into SolarWorld’s computers and stole emails and files belonging to three of the companies senior executives. Wen and another unidentified co-conspirator also hacked into SolarWorld computers 12 separate times, stealing emails and other files containing detailed information about the company’s finances, production capabilities, cost structure and strategies.
“Collectively, the data stolen from SolarWorld would have enabled a Chinese competitor to target SolarWorld’s business operations aggressively from a variety of angles,” the indictment states.
“It is clear that China will go to any length and break any rule to create an unfair playing field that disadvantages their competitors and costs American jobs. This development clearly creates obstacles to improving economic ties with China,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in response to the allegations.
SolarWorld spokesman Ben Santarris said the company was targeted because of its involvement in trade cases brought against Chinese manufacturers.
The company was the lead petitioner in a 2011 case before the U.S. Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission that found Chinese manufacturers were benefiting from unfair subsidies and "dumping" solar products into the U.S. market at prices below fair value.
"The SolarWorld personnel who were targeted by the cyberspying all had the common denominator that they were associated in some way with the trade cases," Santarris said. "And it happened in the middle of the trade cases."
Santarris said the company has implemented security measures and will pursue all potential remedies and legal actions in regards to the cyberspying. The trade cases Santarris said prompted the spying remain unsettled for the company, he said.
SolarWorld won the case against unfair subsidies, but didn't get the remedy it wanted, he said. He said Chinese manufacturers continue to take advantage of the subsidies, exploiting a loophole by outsourcing one of the production steps to Taiwan. SolarWorld brought a second case against Chinese manufacturers at the end of 2013 attempting to close that loophole.