The United States Justice department has filed criminal charges against five hackers in the Chinese military. Government officials allege they stole American trade secrets through cyber spying, says a report from NBCNews citing U.S. officials familiar with the case.

China US Cyber Spying

“This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military and represent the first-ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Energy and manufacturing sectors targeted by hackers

For the first time, the United States has slapped Chinese state hackers with espionage charges. The hacking act was carried out on six American companies in the nuclear power, metals and solar products industries. The names of few of the firms victimized include Westinghouse Electric, U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG, U.S. Steel, Allegheny Technologies and Alcoa.

Attorney General Eric Holder will provide details about the charges in a press conference later on Monday. There are several Chinese government hackers on the list according to the United States official. The Obama administration has marked China as one of the most aggressive nations involved in gathering industrial secrets through espionage

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department will charge five people who are accused of working for the People’s Liberation Army with hacking into U.S. company systems.

Previous incidents of spying

The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, a U.S. government agency, mentioned in a 2011 report that Chinese actors are the most active and continuous followers of economic espionage.

Later, newspapers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal said that hackers in China attacked their newsroom computer system. China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, however, denied any involvement of Chinese in the espionage and called the charges “irresponsible”. However, U.S. security experts are sure that China attacked the news organization computers in the United States, and managed to identify the sources of news leaks within the Chinese government.

Marc Zwillinger, a computer security expert and former justice department lawyer, told NBC that the computers, which are safe from the Chinese government these days, are turned off, unplugged and thrown in the back of the car seat.

President Barack Obama and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met two times last year related to cyber-security issues, in Sunnylands, California and at the G-20 summit in the St. Petersburg, Russia.