Chinese military behind 2017 Equifax data theft
Updated: Feb 17, 2020
On Monday, the Department of Justice charged four members of the Chinese military with hacking into the Equifax credit reporting agency and stealing the personal information of millions of Americans in what was one of the largest data breaches in history.
The breach in 2017 affected more than 145 million people, exposing their names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and other personal information. The DOJ is also accusing the hackers of stealing Equifax's trade secrets.
"The scale of the theft was staggering," Attorney General William Barr said. "This theft not only caused significant financial damage to Equifax, but invaded the privacy of many millions of Americans," Barr said.
The alleged hackers are not in custody, but U.S. officials say bringing criminal charges such as these serve as deterrents to other foreign hackers and as a warning to other countries.
Equifax told the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, that the company made mistakes, including having an outdated list of computer systems administrators. The company directed their employees to install a patch to remedy the software vulnerability, but the employees responsible never received the notice.
"For years we have witnessed China's voracious appetite for the personal data of Americans," AG Barr said at a press conference. "This data has economic value, and these thefts can feed China's development of artificial intelligence tools as well as the creation of intelligence targeting packages."
Chinese spies have increased efforts to hack American targets in recent years, including attempts on the Office of Personnel Management and health insurer Anthem. Intelligence officials also believe China to be responsible for other major cyber attacks, including the Marriott hack that exposed the personal data of roughly 500 million people.
"At the FBI we've been saying for years that China will do anything it can to replace the United States as the world's leading superpower," FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said.