On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced federal charges against four Chinese military/intelligence officials for their role in the infamous Equifax data breach scandal of 2017. In one of the greatest data theft operations in global history, hackers in 2017 pilfered from Equifax trade secrets and personal data belonging to up to 150 million Americans.
“A federal grand jury in Atlanta returned a nine-count indictment last week that accused members of China’s People’s Liberation Army of conspiring to steal reams of data as part of a sophisticated hacking operation that exploited a major vulnerability in the software used by Equifax’s online dispute portal,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “The breach into Equifax, disclosed in 2017, compromised data belonging to about 145 million Americans and has been viewed as one of the largest hacks on record. It prompted prolonged public outrage and led to a series of hearings in Congress that led to the resignation of the company’s former chief executive, Richard Smith.”
Attorney General William Barr was unequivocal in his denunciation of the malign activities: “This was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people,” Barr said earlier today.
“The hack was viewed as alarming both because of its size and the richness of the data that was stolen, which included Social Security and driver’s license numbers, addresses, birthdays and other information. The breach began in May 2017 at the latest and continued through July 2017,” the Journal continued. “The indictment alleges that the defendants used 34 servers located in nearly 20 countries to infiltrate the company’s network.”
According to Politico, the formal charging instrument was a nine-count that charged the Chinese officials with “wire fraud, economic espionage, conspiracy to commit computer fraud and other offenses.”
“At the FBI we’ve been saying for years that China will do anything it can to replace the United States as the world’s leading superpower,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said in connection with the formal indictments, as Politico reported. “This indictment is about more than targeting just an American business. It’s about the brazen theft of sensitive personal information of nearly 150 million Americans.”
The revelations of the alleged origins of the Equifax breach come at a time of increasingly escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. In a Daily Wire op-ed last May, I described China as America’s “greatest 21st century threat”:
Calling China the number one 21st century geopolitical threat to the United States ought to not be a particularly controversial claim. As far back as 2011, The Economist noted that, “[w]ith its rapidly improving military capability … China has the wherewithal to challenge the security status quo in the Pacific as well as potential motives to do so.” That trend has only exacerbated in recent years. In January, for instance, the Pentagon expressly warned about China’s recent “series of ambitious military reforms and acquired new technology.” In March, the Chinese government assertively pronounced an astonishing 7.5% annual rise in military spending — which was actually a mild decrease from the previous year’s military spending increase. Over just the past couple months, China has fortified its military presence in the highly strategic Horn of Africa, and has even made expansionist overtures in the Arctic. …
The upshot is that everywhere from North Korean denuclearization to the Senkaku Islands territorial sovereignty dispute in the East China Sea to the deeply combative forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft that the Chinese Communist Party claims as an allegedly necessary “cost” of doing business in China, China is a deeply adversarial geopolitical actor. This is a nation with rapidly escalating hard military power, the world’s second largest GDP, a huge landmass, the world’s largest population, ownership of a massive reserve of U.S. sovereign debt, a grossly manipulated currency, an aggressive regional foreign policy that seeks to undermine key U.S. allies, a desire to dictate the rules of trade from a hostile, communist perspective, a reflexive urge to publicly shame and embarrass Western corporations into toeing the Chinese Communist Party line on geographical disputes, and an unhinged zealotry in committing acts of cyberwarfare upon and pilfering the intellectual property of sundry Western corporations.