A nine-count federal indictment unsealed by the Department of Justice on Monday reveals that four members of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) have been charged with hacking into the computer systems of the credit reporting service, Equifax.
The indictment alleges that the four suspects were able to get away with the personal financial information of more than 145 million American citizens.
"It was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people," Attorney General William Barr said during a press conference Monday.
The four suspects were named as Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Kei, and Liu Lei. All four are allegedly members of the PLA's 54th Research Institute. They're charged with hacking an Equifax dispute portal after they spent several weeks determining the best way to break into Equifax's database. The hackers were able to gain access to Equifax's database, allowing them to make as many as 9,000 queries to obtain U.S. citizen data that included their names, birth dates, and social security numbers on nearly half of all American citizens.
The hackers allegedly covered their tracks by routing their web traffic through 34 servers and 20 different countries.
All four suspects were also charged with stealing trade secrets from Equifax, including database designs and how the credit reporting agency structures its data.
“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," said Barr. "Unfortunately, the Equifax hack fits a disturbing and unacceptable pattern of state-sponsored computer intrusions and thefts by China."
The defendants are charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The defendants are also charged with two counts of unauthorized access and intentional damage to a protected computer, one count of economic espionage, and three counts of wire fraud.
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