HONG KONG — Two large American steel makers, U.S. Steel and Allegheny Technologies, each lost confidential files giving access to their computer networks.
The largest solar panel manufacturer in the United States, SolarWorld, allegedly lost technological secrets, production cost data, cash flow projections and the details of its legal strategy.
The United Steelworkers union lost computer records containing trade policy strategies and discussions about rare earth metals and auto parts.
All four had something in common besides data theft: Each was in the middle of pushing back against China’s trade policies by seeking help from the World Trade Organization or the Commerce Department.
A Justice Department indictment released Monday — which accuses five Chinese military personnel of the cyberattacks — reads like a chronology of most of the major trade disputes between the United States and China during the past five years. In most instances, the documents say, the American company or union that defied Beijing ended up facing extensive break-ins by Chinese military hackers, in a pattern that could discourage further trade policy challenges.