Equifax cyberattack
Credit reporting company Equifax Inc. corporate offices are pictured in Atlanta, Georgia (Photo: Reuters / Tami Chappell)
  

China has officially released a response to the recent charges brought upon four individuals, allegedly members of the country's People's Liberation Army (PLA), by a US federal jury. The individuals were charged by the US jury of being involved in the cyberattack of credit reporting agency Equifax in 2017.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Geng Shuang, strongly denied the accusations made by the Department of Justice on the four men. The US alleged that the men were directly tied to the attack, which the FBI had claimed was the largest theft of sensitive personal information by state-sponsored hackers.

The hacking of Equifax's servers resulted in the theft of hundreds of millions of personal data, including full names, addresses, birth dates, driver's license numbers, and social security numbers.

Shuang told reporters that China's government, military, and official personnel would never engage in the online theft of trade secrets. The ministry spokesperson strongly argued that it is the US that typically engages in these types of actions. Shaung accused the US of being the one that is engaging in large-scale, indiscriminate, and organized cyber theft and spying activities on foreign governments and individuals.

Earlier in the week, a US federal grand jury formally charged Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Liu Lei, and Xu Ke for their involvement in the hacking of Equifax and the theft of hundreds of millions of personally identifiable information. The hackers, who the US alleges are members of the PLA's 54th Research Institute unit was also charged with stealing trade secrets, including Equifax's database designs and its data compilations.

The massive hack, described as the largest in recorded history, resulted in a slew of investigations including a probe on Equifax's own operations. The credit reporting agency was later found to be lacking in its security protocols. Investigators found a number of major security lapses, which included some servers using "admin" as usernames.

Surprisingly, some of Equifax's own employees were later found guilty of insider trading. Investigators found that some employees were trading the company's stocks before the hack was made public; taking advantage of the fact that the stocks would dip once news of the breach was out.

US authorities are now actively trying to find and apprehend the charged individuals but it is highly unlikely that the four men will ever appear in court. Their whereabouts are also reportedly still unknown.  The US' action to charge officials of another country's military is highly unprecedented. However, US officials argue that the scale of the attack does warrant the action.