The Justice Department charged four Chinese intelligence officers on Monday with a 2017 hack of credit-reporting giant Equifax, which compromised the personal data of nearly 150 million Americans.
“This was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people,” Attorney General William Barr said in a press conference on the announcement.
Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke, and Liu Lei, members of the People’s Liberation Army’s 54th Research Institute, are charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, as well as two counts of unauthorized access and intentional damage to a protected computer, one count of economic espionage, and three counts of wire fraud.
The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Atlanta last week, alleges that the soldiers used a vulnerability in Equifax’s online dispute portal to access its secure servers over several weeks. The group ran approximately 9,000 queries while routing traffic through 34 servers to secretly obtain names, birth dates, and social security numbers for nearly half of all American citizens, before compressing and exporting the data.
Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) released a statement calling for greater cyber security in the wake of the announcement.
“The Chinese Communist Party will leave no stone unturned in its effort to steal and exploit American data,” Sasse said. “These indictments are good news, but we’ve got to do more to protect Americans’ data from Chinese Communist Party influence operations.”
The multi-year investigation involved tracing the IP addresses and software tools used in the cyberattack.
“Today’s announcement of these indictments further highlights our commitment to imposing consequences on cybercriminals no matter who they are, where they are, or what country’s uniform they wear,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said.
The announcement is the latest in a underhanded technology war between the U.S. and China. President Trump reportedly slammed U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a private phone call last week, after Johnson ignored the U.S.’s warnings and announced that Britain would allow Chinese telecom giant Huawei to help build the country’s 5G network.