Chinese Military Members Charged With 2017 Hacking of Equifax

U.S. prosecutors say that four members of the People’s Liberation Army were involved in the hacking, which exposed the sensitive data of more than 147 million people.

A group of Chinese military hackers were charged by the Justice Department for breaking into the computer networks of Equifax in 2017, causing a security breach that exposed the sensitive financial information of more than 147 million people.

All four defendants named by the Justice Department are members of the People’s Liberation Army, a Chinese military branch, and are accused of stealing the credit-reporting agency’s “trade secrets,” according to The New York Times.

In a statement on Monday, Attorney General William Barr called the hack a “deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people.” Equifax faced heavy criticisms in the wake of the cyber attack, leading to a $700 million settlement.

“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,” Barr said.

The case is similar to a 2014 indictment by the Obama Justice Department against five members of the PLA, accusing the military members of hacking into American corporations in order to steal business secrets. In addition, China’s government has faced suspicion from U.S. intelligence in the cyber attacks on Marriott International and the 2015 attack on the Office of Personnel Management, according to the Times.

In the Equifax breach, the hacking group was able to gain access to critical computer systems by taking advantage of a software vulnerability, according to prosecutors. That vulnerability allowed the attackers to obtain log-in credentials and take over accounts to view databases. The hackers were skillful in breaching the servers without being caught, often wiping their log files.

None of the accused defendants are in U.S. custody, but law enforcement officials say the point is to show that they can identify specific hackers and trace attacks back to their true sources. Barr said that the actions by hackers working on behalf of the Chinese government represent a counterintelligence threat, particularly to Americans’ data and corporations’ sensitive information.

“This kind of attack on American industry is of a piece with other Chinese illegal acquisitions of sensitive personal data,” Barr said.

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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