While cyber attacks continue to make the news for wreaking havoc on commercial targets, they are also frequently used in nation vs. nation espionage. These tactics can damage vital infrastructure or be employed to steal sensitive information from competing nations, but their confidential nature means they’re not as openly discussed as breaches that are perpetrated by independent agents.

But on May 19, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is expected to announce its intentions to hold individuals in the Chinese military accountable for such attacks, marking the first time it has publicly sought legal action against the cyber activity of foreign agents.

The charges target five individuals of the People’s Liberation Army who allegedly stole information about the design and operation of nuclear power plants in the US. The charges will be filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, but it is unclear at this time if whether the selection of the venue has any significance in the case.

The move could mark a change to a more aggressive stance from the United States in its ongoing battle with China over frequent intrusions. China has previously received stern warning from the DOJ about its tactics against the United States, who charge that the theft of such information is an effort to gain an unfair economic advantage.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, that “The range of trade secrets and other sensitive business information stolen in this case is significant and demands an aggressive response.” The official charges are expected later today, and should offer more clarity.

Cyber security has been a threat to both the public and private sector for decades, but proliferating attack vectors coupled with increasing scrutiny from regulatory bodies has made the space increasingly costly for organizations. This high profile news could potentially catalyze the call for more stringent security standards, or at the very least offer a path to retaliation against those executing attacks.


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