A federal grand jury has indicted four members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with hacking into Equifax's computer systems. Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke and Liu Lei allegedly hacked into Equifax in 2017 to steal Social Security numbers and other information of 145 million Americans. U.S. Attorney William Barr announced the indictments on Feb. 10, 2020. The criminal charges were filed in federal court in Atlanta, where Equifax is based. Equifax paid $700 million in settlement damages and fees af

What is the PLA, and why do feds believe they hacked Equifax?

The U.S. Department of Justice is charging four members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with hacking into Equifax, an Atlanta-based credit reporting agency, and stealing millions of Americans’ personal data and other data. 

The nine-count indictment alleges Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke and Liu Lei were members of PLA’s 54th Research Institute, a component of the Chinese military. They allegedly conspired with each other to hack into Equifax’s computer networks in a 2017 data breach that affected about 145 million Americans.

»MORE: DOJ charges 4 PLA members with hacking Equifax

The PLA is the military branch of the People’s Republic of China and of the Communist Party of China. It is the world’s largest military force and has five branches: the Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force and the Strategic Support Force. 

In October 2017, at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled a plan that would mechanize the PLA in 2020, modernize it by 2035 and make it into a world-class military by the middle of this century. 

»MORE: Equifax to pay at least $600M to settle data breach

According to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, China has built more submarines, destroyers, frigates and corvettes since 2000 than Japan, South Korea and India combined.

A lone demonstrator stands down a column of tanks June 5, 1989, at the entrance to Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Photo: CNN via Getty Images/Getty Images

The PLA was also instrumental in subduing the 1989 liberty demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

“This kind of attack on American industry is of a piece with other Chinese illegal acquisitions of sensitive personal data,” said U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday. “For years, we have witnessed China’s voracious appetite for the personal data of Americans, including the theft of personnel records from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the intrusion into Marriott hotels, and Anthem health insurance company, and now the wholesale theft of credit and other information from Equifax.

“In addition to thefts of sensitive personal data, our cases reveal a pattern of state-sponsored computer intrusions and thefts by China targeting trade secrets and confidential business information,” Barr said. “Indeed, about 80% of our economic espionage prosecutions have implicated the Chinese government, and about 60% of all trade secret theft cases in recent years involved some connection to China.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.