Prosecutors alleged in a nine-count indictment filed Monday in federal court in Atlanta that four members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) hacked into Equifax’s systems. They are accused of stealing the personal data as well as company trade secrets in what Attorney General William P. Barr called “a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people.”
Asked about the allegations in Beijing on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded with a staunch denial.
“We firmly oppose and combat cyberattacks of any kind. China is a staunch defender of cybersecurity,” he told journalists during a briefing conducted over the WeChat social media app because the coronavirus makes it dangerous to congregate.
“The Chinese government, military and relevant personnel never engage in cybertheft of trade secrets,” he wrote.
The four named in the indictment are Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke and Liu Lei, all said to be members of the PLA’s 54th Research Institute.
None of them are in custody, nor are they likely to be any time soon. But officials said that charging and naming them served the purpose of publicly shaming them for their actions and enabled the United States to arrest them if they travel one day.
The U.S. government has previously accused hackers working on behalf of the Chinese government, including the 2015 hack of the health insurer Anthem and the federal Office of Personnel Management, as well as a 2018 attack on the Marriott Hotel chain.
Barr said Monday that China has a “voracious appetite” for Americans’ personal information. “This data has economic value, and these thefts can feed China’s development of artificial intelligence tools,” he said.
But Geng portrayed China as a “victim” of American hacking.
“It has long been an open secret that relevant departments in the U.S., in violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations, have been engaging in large-scale, organized and indiscriminate cyber stealing, spying and surveillance activities on foreign governments, enterprises and individuals,” he said.
He cited the cases of WikiLeaks and whistleblower Edward Snowden as examples of American “hypocrisy and double standards” on cybersecurity.
“According to plenty of information that has been made public, U.S. agencies have been engaging in cyber intrusion, surveillance and monitoring activities on foreign governments, institutions, enterprises, universities and individuals, including on its allies,” he continued.
The Chinese government has protested to the United States about these activities, Geng said.