SolarWorld 'hacked by Chinese'

Members of China's military systematically hacked the computers of SolarWorld USA, engaging in corporate espionage with the possible aim of advantaging SolarWorld's Chinese rivals, the US government alleges.

A grand jury in the US on Monday indicted five Chinese military hackers on charges of corporate espionage, marking the first time the US has publicly accused representatives of a foreign government of cybercrime.

SolarWorld – a Germany-based company with a significant manufacturing presence in the US state of Oregon – was among six victims made public.

SolarWorld was at the centre of the push that in 2012 saw the US impose anti-dumping tariffs on PV modules using Chinese cells.

It has also been at the centre of a current investigation that could see those tariffs expanded to Chinese modules employing Taiwanese cells, in a move that many in the downstream US solar industry say would have a severely negative impact on the market.

According to market researcher IHS, Chinese module suppliers using Taiwanese cells are currently selling into the US at around $0.62-$0.65/W, compared to the more than $0.70/W charged by non-Chinese suppliers.

A final ruling in that case is expected in October.

The hacking of SolarWorld is alleged to have taken place in 2012, at “about the same time” that the Commerce Department made its ruling on Chinese cells.

The hackers stole “thousands of files” from SolarWorld, according to the Justice Department, including information regarding the company’s financial position, manufacturing processes, and product costs, in addition to confidential information regarding the trade litigation.

Taken together, the information “would have enabled a Chinese competitor to target SolarWorld’s business operations aggressively from a variety of angles,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

SolarWorld responded by saying it will investigate the possibility of filing damage claims based on the alleged hacking.

A spokesman for the Chinese government in the US rejected the charges as “absurd”.

Other alleged victims of the hacking include Westinghouse Electric, US Steel, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies, and the US Steelworkers Union.

“The alleged hacking appears to have been conducted for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China, at the expense of businesses here in the US,” says US Attorney General Eric Holder.

The allegations are sure to inflame the already raw relations between the US and China, and will draw significantly more political scrutiny to the ongoing investigation of Taiwanese cells.