Chris Riotta, Independent, February 10, 2020
The US Department of Justice has charged four hackers believed to have been associated with the Chinese military for their involvement in the 2017 Equifax cyberattack, a massive theft of over 147 million credit reports.
The four are also accused of stealing the company’s trade secrets, law enforcement officials said. The defendants are all members of the People’s Liberation Army, an arm of the Chinese military.
The case comes as Donald Trump’s White House has warned against what it sees as the growing political and economic influence of China, and efforts by Beijing to collect data on Americans and steal scientific research and innovation.
The case is one of several the Justice Department has brought over the years against members of the PLA.
Former President Barack Obama’s administration in 2014 charged five Chinese military hackers with breaking into the networks of major American corporations to siphon trade secrets.
Officials described the Equifax hacking as one of the most massive digital thefts in the world, though its long-term impact still remains largely unknown.
FBI deputy director David Bowdich said on Monday: “This is the largest theft of sensitive PII by state-sponsored hackers ever recorded.”
Richard Smith, a former chief executive for the consumer credit reporting agency, stepped down from his post shortly after the hack was reported.
The company was later forced to pay $575m (£444.5m) in fines to the Federal Trade Commission as part of a settlement stemming from the breach.
The FBI posted photos of three of the four men charged in the hacking, writing in a statement: “Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke, and Liu Lei face charges of computer fraud, economic espionage, and wire fraud for their role in one of the largest thefts of personally identifiable information by state-sponsored hackers ever recorded.”
Attorney General William Barr said in a statement: “This was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people.”
He added: “Today, we hold PLA hackers accountable for their criminal actions, and we remind the Chinese government that we have the capability to remove the Internet’s cloak of anonymity and find the hackers that nation repeatedly deploys against us.”