The U.S. Department of Justice charged four Chinese military members who hacked Equifax computer networks and stole tens of millions of Americans’ personal information.
“I’m here to announce the indictment of … four members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for breaking into the computer systems of the credit reporting agency Equifax and for stealing the sensitive personal information of nearly half of all American citizens,” Attorney General Bill Barr announced at a Monday morning press conference.
“This was one of the largest data breaches in history,” Barr said. “The scale of the theft was staggering.”
The Chinese hackers stole “the names, birthdates and social security numbers of nearly 150 million Americans, and the driver’s licenses of at least 10 million Americans,” Barr explained.
Barr said the theft, which took place in 2017, caused major financial damage to Equifax, invaded Americans’ privacy, and imposed costs on Americans as they were burdened with protecting their identities. The hackers also stole trade secrets from Equifax.
Once the hackers breached the Equifax network, they “spent weeks conducting reconnaissance, uploading malicious software, and stealing login credentials, all to set up the stage to steal vast amounts of data,” 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,” Barr added.
The Chinese hackers used servers from all over the world to hide their tracks amid the attacks.
“Their attacks to cover their tracks failed,” FBI Deputy Director Bowdich said.
Bowdich said the indictment intends to call out the Chinese government and put pressure on the bad actors.
“This is only the second time in our history that we’ve indicted Chinese military hackers,” Bowdich said. “Our concern is not with the Chinese people, or Chinese-Americans. It with the Chinese government.”
The DOJ had previously charged five Chinese military hackers in 2014 for hacking the networks of Americans companies and stealing trade secrets.