Though the United States and China recently signed “Phase One” of a new trade deal, that doesn’t change the fact that both countries remain rivals and that Beijing still seeks to replace Washington as the world’s preeminent power.
Great power competition is continuing as evidenced by the Trump administration’s indictment of four Chinese military officers who are alleged to have been behind a recent hack of Equifax, one of the United States’ leading credit data firms.
Federal prosecutors have charged four officers associated with a branch of the People’s Liberation Army responsible for conducting electronic espionage. The officers are alleged to have hacked the credit reports and other personal information on about 145 million Americans, Breitbart News reported.
“This was a deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people,” said Attorney General William P. Barr, who made the announcement on Monday. “Today, we hold PLA hackers accountable for their criminal actions, and we remind the Chinese government that we have the capability to remove the Internet’s cloak of anonymity and find the hackers that nation repeatedly deploys against us.”
Breitbart News detailed what the PLA managed to obtain, allegedly:
The hackers successfully stole names, Social Security numbers and other personal information stored in the company’s databases. The news of the data breach provoked public outrage, led to Congressional hearings, the resignation of the company’s chief executive, and a legal dispute that resulted in a settlement worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The four Chinese officers have also been accused by U.S. prosecutors of stealing Equifax’s trade secrets.
“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,” said the attorney general.
The Justice Department is bringing the case as the Trump administration warns about what it perceives to be China’s rising global political and military influence, as well as all-out efforts sponsored by Beijing to collect as much data on Americans as possible while continuing to steal U.S. trade, military and economic data.
This isn’t the first time the U.S. government has charged Chinese hackers with data theft. In 2014, Breitbart News reported, the Obama administration charged five members of the Chinese military hacking collective of breaking into major American corporations and stealing their trade secrets and other vital information. (Related: Pompeo issues dire warning to U.S. governors that China is attempting to manipulate state and local governments.)
Regarding the Equifax hack, the Justice Department’s indictment contains details of how the Chinese hackers broke in, extracted the data, then tried to cover their tracks. The charges include conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
It’s not as if the Trump administration expects the Chinese government to hand over the suspects. After all, they were operating as part of the Chinese military on orders from the Communist government’s leadership.
But by indicting them formally, the U.S. not only puts Beijing on notice, it has the case on file should one of the named Chinese hackers attempt to enter the U.S. or an extradition country in the future.
The Trump administration’s trade team is well aware of Beijing’s history of data theft. The team, led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, attempted — at the president’s direction — to make theft of American intellectual property part of the Phase One deal.
And in fact, China pledged to “step up protections of intellectual property,” the UK’s Register reported in January.
“The IP chapter addresses numerous longstanding concerns in the areas of trade secrets, patents and pharmaceutical-related intellectual property, geographical indications, trademarks, and enforcement against pirated and counterfeit goods,” the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said last month.
Looks like China wasn’t really serious about that part of the deal.