China Steals Sensitive Data of 150 Million Americans
A federal grand jury in Atlanta returned a nine-count indictment against 4 members of China’s military on charges of hacking into Equifax Inc. and stealing the sensitive data on nearly 150 million Americans. The massive heist also stole trade secrets and sensitive company information from the credit reporting agency. The members of China’s People’s Liberation Army were conspiring and partial completed their plan to steal reams of data as part of a sophisticated hacking operation that exploited a major vulnerability in the software used by Equifax’s online dispute portal.
“This was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people,” Attorney General William Barr said.
The 2017 breach into Equifax compromised data belonging to about 145 million Americans and has been viewed as one of the largest hacks on record. It prompted a series of hearings in Congress and the exit of former CEO, Richard Smith. Last year, Equifax agreed to a $700 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in an effort to compensate victims.
The hack was shocking both in its size (lasting at least 3 months and using 34 servers located in nearly 20 countries to infiltrate the company’s network) and the type of data that was stolen. The data included Social Security and driver’s license numbers, addresses, birthdays and other information.
“This was an organized and remarkably brazen criminal heist of sensitive information of nearly half of all Americans, as well as the hard work and intellectual property of an American company, by a unit of the Chinese military,” Mr. Barr said.
Unveiling the indictment at a press conference, Mr. Barr and other senior Justice Department officials sought to link the cyberattack to China’s overarching goals to supplant the U.S. through a range of underhanded and illegal acts as the world’s leader in advanced technology.
FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said the data could be used to target U.S. officials for counterintelligence purposes.
This indictment is just one of several issues the U.S. authorities have blamed on China recently. The US has previously blamed Beijing for a hack of more than 20 million files on government employees and their associates at the Office of Personnel Management, a theft of tens of millions of records from the health-insurance provider Anthem Inc., and investigators believe China was responsible for the hack of hundreds of millions of records from hotel company Marriott International Inc.