Report: Chinese Army Stole Over 13 Million British Citizens’ Personal Data

BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 26: Chinese President Xi Jinping proposes a toast during the welcome banquet for leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People on April 26, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Nicolas Asfouri - Pool/Getty Images)
Nicolas Asfouri - Pool/Getty Images

An elite hacker network sponsored by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stole the personal data, including telephone numbers, credit card details, and passwords, of over 13 million people in Britain.

The Chinese reportedly sponsored a 2017 cyberattack on Equifax, a top consumer credit reporting agency. It was described by the United States as the largest database hack in history, with over 145 million Americans being affected — and it has now been revealed millions in the United Kingdom were impacted as well.

Equifax said that the personal data of at least 13.1 million Britons was compromised in the hack as their data was stored on their servers in Atlanta, Georgia, according to The Times.

The hack was conducted by four members of the People’s Liberation Army’s cyber-espionage unit, dubbed the “54th Research Institute”, Wu Zhiyong, Wang Qian, Xu Ke, and Liu Lei — all of whom were indicted by the United States Justice Department on Monday.

William Barr, the Attorney General of the United States, said: “Unfortunately, the Equifax hack fits a disturbing and unacceptable pattern of state-sponsored computer intrusions and thefts by China and its citizens that have targeted personally identifiable information, trade secrets, and other confidential information.”

China, for its part, has denied any involvement in the hack, claiming to be a “victim” of the hack themselves.

“From the case of WikiLeaks to Edward Snowden, the U.S. hypocrisy and double standards on cybersecurity have been fully revealed,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, deflecting from the four indictments against members of the PLA.

The hackers are believed to have used a network of computers in nearly twenty countries to mask their “criminal heist” operation. It is feared by investigators that the hack will put Americans and Britons working in the defence and nuclear industries at risk, as well as providing blackmail material against politicians and intelligence agents.

The Beijing-based hacker group used Equifax’s “online dispute portal”, where consumers could challenge their credit rating, to enter the system. Three months before the cyberattack, Equifax was informed that the site was vulnerable to such a hack. However, the agency did not patch the security flaw in time, allowing the hackers “backdoor access” into the company’s massive database of consumer information.

The revelation comes as the United Kingdom and the United States are locked in a dispute over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to allow the Chinese tech giant Huawei to help build Britain’s 5G network.

The British government has claimed that Huawei will only work on the “periphery” of the nation’s 5G network and that it will not have access to the “core” of the infrastructure.

Officials from the U.S. presented evidence to Boris Johnson’s government that Huawei has built-in a similar “back door” entrance into its mobile networks, raising fears that the firm could be used as an espionage tool by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“We have evidence that Huawei has the capability secretly to access sensitive and personal information in systems it maintains and sells around the world,” said Robert O’Brien, the national security advisor to President Donald Trump.

Follow Kurt on Twitter at @KurtZindulka

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