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US Feds Pin Equifax Breach on Chinese Spies

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Equifax might not be the only one to blame for the 2017 data breach that revealed the personal data of more than 147 million Americans. The U.S. Department of Justice today announced that the U.S. charged four Chinese intelligence officers with "wire fraud, economic espionage, conspiracy to commit computer fraud and other offenses" in January.

It's been almost three years since Equifax first revealed the data breach (opens in new tab) that exposed the names, birthdays, addresses and Social Security Numbers of millions of Americans. By March 2018, the total number of victims hit 147.9 million (opens in new tab).  

Now it seems that China might be to blame.The people charged on January 28--Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke and Liu Lei--are part of the Chinese government's People's Liberation Army (PLA). Officials reportedly said the breach "underscored Beijing’s aggressive pattern of stealing private data to improve its intelligence operations and boost the performance of its domestic companies."

That doesn't necessarily clear Equifax from all responsibility (opens in new tab), however. The breach reportedly happened via a known vulnerability (opens in new tab) the company neglected to address, and it waited several days to reveal the breach after learning about it, too. It's no wonder the company settled the breach (opens in new tab) for between $575 and $700 million.

But at least now it seems that a massive data breach that compromised the personal information of well over 100 million Americans can't be entirely blamed on Equifax's incompetence. Instead, it appears to have been a concerted effort on China's part to aid its intelligence operations against the U.S. government.

Is that better? Probably not. These charges are unlikely to amount to much, either. "If the previous cases are any indication," Politico (opens in new tab) said, "there’s little chance the hackers blamed for the Equifax breach will be apprehended by U.S. officials anytime soon." These charges appear to be a mostly symbolic gesture of pressure on China.

Nathaniel Mott
Nathaniel Mott

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.