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US charges four Chinese army members over giant Equifax hacking breach | Technology


The United States has charged four Chinese military hackers in the 2017 breach of the Equifax credit reporting agency that affected nearly 150 million US citizens, William Barr, the attorney general, said on Monday.

“This was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people,” Barr said about one of the largest data breaches in US history.

The indictment charges four members of the Chinese Liberation Army.

“This data has economic value,” Barr said, “and these thefts can feed China’s development of artificial intelligence tools.”

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The announcement is the latest in an aggressive campaign by US authorities to root out Chinese espionage operations. Since 2018, the US has snared a growing group of Chinese government officials, business people and academics allegedly pursuing American secrets.

Roughly 147 million people had information, including social security numbers and driver’s license data, compromised by the Equifax breach.

The hackers spent weeks in the Equifax system, breaking into computer networks, stealing company secrets and personal data. The hackers ran about 9,000 queries, taking names, birth dates and social security numbers for nearly half of all American citizens.

They routed traffic through about 34 servers located in nearly 20 countries to obfuscate their true location.

The data breach, because it was so large and involved so much sensitive financial information on so many Americans, had far-reaching implications for Equifax and the consumer credit industry.

The company agreed to pay up to $700m to settle claims it broke the law during the data breach and to repay harmed consumers.

The scandal sent the company into turmoil, leading to the exit of its chief executive, Richard Smith, and multiple congressional hearings as the company’s slowness to disclose the breach and security practices were challenged by lawmakers.

Policymakers and consumer groups have questioned how private companies could amass so much personal data, sparking efforts to bolster consumers’ ability to control their information.

Both the Senate banking and House financial services committees are considering legislation that would require companies to better protect consumer data.

In a statement on Monday, Equifax thanked the justice department for its “tireless” work and said: “Cybercrime is one of the greatest threats facing our nation today, and it is an ongoing battle that every company will continue to face as attackers grow more sophisticated.

“Combating this challenge from well-financed nation-state actors that operate outside the rule of law is increasingly difficult.”



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