Three major US defense firms were among the victims of an alleged hacking ring based in Ukraine that accessed and leaked press releases to co-conspirators who traded on the information before it became public.

Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell, all top twenty 20 global defense firms, were among the victims listed in a federal indictment unsealed Monday in New Jersey. The charges accuse a ring of Ukrainian hackers of breaking into the networks of newswires that routinely issue press releases on behalf of big companies, then passing along valuable information to accomplices who made trades based on the not-yet-known announcements.

In some cases, the hackers accessed press releases on PRNewswire, Marketwired and Business Wire's networks hours before they were issued, according to the indictment. In others, they had the information days ahead of time. Overall, they hacked more than 150,000 press releases and conducted around 1,000 insider trades, prosecutors allege.

"This international scheme is unprecedented in terms of the scope of the hacking, the number of traders, the number of securities traded and profits generated," said Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White in a prepared statement.  "These hackers and traders are charged with reaping more than $100 million in illicit profits by stealing nonpublic information and trading based on that information. That deception ends today as we have exposed their fraudulent scheme and frozen their assets."

The newswires typically handle press releases for hundreds of companies, many of which contain earnings reports or merger and acquisition announcements that affect a company's stock price. Other companies alleged to be victims of the scheme include Delta Airlines, Netflix, Home Depot and Texas Instruments.

"We were pleased to learn that the government is prosecuting people alleged to have stolen and misused non-public information relating to a number of companies, including Northrop Grumman. Northrop Grumman takes seriously its obligation to protect non-public information and because of the ongoing legal matter, we have no comment," said Randy Belote, vice president of strategic communications for Northrop Grumman. Representatives of Boeing and Honeywell also declined to comment.

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