U.S. charges four Chinese military members over Equifax hack

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The Department of Justice announced charges Monday against four members of China’s People’s Liberation Army for the 2017 hack of Equifax Inc., according to U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

Barr said the charges stem from “breaking into the computer systems” of the credit-reporting company and stealing intellectual property and sensitive personal information at an unprecedented scale.

At a news conference in Washington announcing the indictments, Barr called the hack a “deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people.”

“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. “Unfortunately, the Equifax hack fits a disturbing and unacceptable pattern of state-sponsored computer intrusions and thefts by China and its citizens that have targeted personally identifiable information, trade secrets, and other confidential information.”

Equifax announced in September 2017 that hackers accessed data including Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and addresses, a breach that impacted more than 140 million people.

Hackers gained access to the Equifax network in May 2017 and attacked the company for 76 days, according to a House Oversight Committee report. Equifax noticed “red flags” in late July, and then in early August contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, outside counsel and cybersecurity firm Mandiant. The company waited until September to inform the public of the breach.

The breach attracted scrutiny from lawmakers in Washington and criticism from consumers and banks, igniting a debate about the role credit bureaus play in lending.