Members of China’s People’s Liberation Army Indicted for 2017 Equifax Hack
In 2017, Equifax — one of three major credit bureaus in the United States — announced that they had experienced a breach. This resulted in approximately 147 million customers having their sensitive data exposed, including names, birthdates, social security numbers, and more. Then last year Equifax and the Federal Trade Commission announced that the company had agreed to pay at least $575 million to those impacted by the hack. Now we’re learning a bit more about who was behind the attack as the U.S. Justice Department has indicted four members of China’s People’s Liberation Army in connection to the hack.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, the alleged perpetrators are Wang Qian, Wu Zhiyong, Xu Ke, and Liu Lei. All are believed to be members of the People’s Liberation Army’s 54th Research Institute. Additionally the four defendants are presumed to reside in the People’s Republic of China and have not been arrested.
According to prepared remarks by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the hackers were able to exploit a vulnerability on Equifax’s dispute resolution page. From there, they allegedly used software to steal login credentials, which would lead to the larger breach. In addition to accessing and exposing customer data, Barr says that many of Equifax’s trade secrets were also obtained.
During a press conference, Barr said, “Four members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army are alleged to have hacked Equifax’s computer systems and commit economic espionage… these thefts can feed China’s development of artificial intelligence tools.” Barr added, “This was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people.”
Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reports that China is also believed to be behind the breach of hotel brand Marriott in 2018. That incident impacted as many as 500 million guests to varying degrees. Those with apparent knowledge of the situation told the Journal that indictments are currently in the works for that hack as well.
The revelation of who was behind the Equifax hack could serve to dampen the prospects of China and the United States reaching subsequent trade deals. Although the two nations agreed to a “Phase One” agreement earlier this year, the long-running trade war has continued. It’s also worth noting that China’s economy has been under additional stress lately as the Wuhan coronavirus has led to widespread closures.
Today’s announcement serves as yet another reminder that consumers should remain vigilant when it comes to protecting their data. This could include freezing your credit reports and regularly monitoring your credit. Similarly it’s also advised that individuals refrain from reusing online passwords and regularly refresh their passwords. While these tactics may still not be foolproof, they can go a long way toward protecting you from identity theft and other fraud.