Barr announces charges against 4 Chinese military officials over 2017 Equifax breach

Attorney General Bill Barr revealed this week that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicted four high-ranking Chinese military officials for their part in the 2017 hack of credit reporting agency Equifax’s database.

In remarks to reporters on Monday, Barr blamed the “Chinese military hackers” for what he called “a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people.”

“This was one of the largest data breaches in history… The scale of the theft was staggering,” Barr said, according to the Washington Examiner. “The hackers obtained the names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers of nearly 150 million Americans and the driver’s licenses of…at least 10 million Americans.”

“A disturbing and unacceptable pattern”

According to the Examiner, Barr told reporters Monday that the charges come after two years of investigating, aided in part by Equifax, which Barr commended for its cooperation “throughout the investigation.” Those named in the indictment include “four members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” Barr said: Wang Qian, Wu Zhiyong, Xu Ke, and Liu Lei.

Barr went on to describe the nature of their alleged crimes, telling reporters:

As described in the indictment, the hackers broke into Equifax’s network through a vulnerability in the company’s dispute resolution website. Once in the network, the hackers spent weeks conducting reconnaissance, uploading malicious software, and stealing login credentials, all to set the stage to steal vast amounts of data from Equifax’s systems.

While doing this, the hackers also stole Equifax’s trade secrets, embodied by the compiled data and complex database designs used to store the personal information.

In Barr’s view, the crime “fits a disturbing and unacceptable pattern of state-sponsored computer intrusions and thefts by China.”

These comments from the attorney general echo similar sentiments expressed by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) last week.

According to the Examiner, Wray characterized China as “a threat not just to our economic security, but by extension to our national security.”

“From my lens, having been FBI director for over two years now, and after having to confront what I would argue is a wider than ever array of challenging threats, this one, to me, really stands out as the greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property and to our economic vitality,” Wray added.

Playing hardball

The Department of Justice has made countering China priority under President Donald Trump, including by launching its China initiative in 2018.

Speaking at an event on the initiative Thursday, Barr himself praised Trump’s efforts, which he said go beyond what previous presidents have been willing to do.

“In the past, prior administrations and many in the private sector have too often been willing to countenance China’s hardball tactics,” the attorney general asserted. “It has been this administration that has finally moved to confront and counteract China’s playbook.”

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