The US Department of Justice has charged four members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) over allegedly hacking Equifax and said that they are wanted by the FBI. US Attorney General William Barr has called the hacking of the Equifax computer system, which took place in 2017 and affected around 150 million Americans, "one of the largest data breaches in history".
Barr explained that the alleged hackers spent weeks snooping through Equifax's system, stealing vast amounts of data, including trade secrets, in the process.
"This was 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 stated.
Equifax is one of the biggest consumer credit reporting agencies in the US and possesses the names, social security numbers, loan histories, and other personal information of over 800 million individuals. Companies use Equifax services to monitor a customer’s credit history, as well as to prevent fraud attempts.
China has not commented on the accusations yet.
A group of PLA members, known as Unit 61398, faced similar charges during the Barack Obama administration, which accused the country of stealing corporate and trade secrets by hacking. Beijing denied the allegations, while accusing Washington of hypocrisy. The members of Unit 61398 have not faced trial in the US. Although Beijing eventually recognised the existence of the cyber-intelligence unit, it never elaborated on any specific operations carried out by it.
China has repeatedly pointed to Edward Snowden's revelations, which provided evidence of massive surveillance and hacking activities carried out by the CIA, including a hacking attack on Chinese tech giant Huawei.