Attorney General Bill Barr announced the indictment of 4 members of the Chinese military for their role in the massive 2017 Equifax hacking that breached sensitive personal data on an estimated 145 million people in the United States.
The nine-count indictment announced during a Justice Department press conference on Monday morning, that they will charge Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke, and Liu Lei, of the People’s Liberation Army’s 54th Research Institute. They allegedly conspired to hack into Equifax’s computer networks and stole massive amounts of information from the consumer credit reporting agency.
“This was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people,” Barr said. “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.”
“This was one of the largest data breaches in history … The scale of the theft was staggering,” Barr said. “The hackers obtained the names, the birth dates, and the Social Security numbers of nearly 150 million Americans and the driver’s licenses of at least 10 million Americans.”
The Washington Examiner reported that the Chinese hackers stole credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information from another 200,000 people in the U.S.
AG Barr also said the hack “fits a disturbing and unacceptable pattern of state-sponsored computer intrusions and thefts by China,” and that it showed the “voracious appetite” the Chinese government has for stolen personal data from Americans.
The attorney general said this stolen information had “economic value” and could “feed” China’s artificial intelligence tools and the creation of intelligence targeting.
“This is the largest theft of sensitive, personally identifiable information by state sponsors ever recorded,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said today, adding, “At the FBI, we’ve been saying for years that the Chinese government will do anything it can to replace the United States as the leading superpower.”
In recent years, the DOJ has increased its scrutiny of China’s activities, charging an increased number of espionage cases, cracking down on China-based hacking schemes, prosecuting Chinese efforts to steal trade secrets, and more.