A U.S. federal grand jury indicted a Chinese national for
his alleged role in the Anthem health insurance data breach that affected more
than 78 million people.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced charges
against Fujie Wang, 32, and other members of a hacking group on Thursday, alleging that they hacked into the computer systems of Anthem and three other
U.S. businesses without authorization. After gaining access to the systems,
they installed malware and other tools to identify and steal personally
identifiable information (PII) and confidential business information.
“The allegations in the indictment unsealed today outline
the activities of a brazen China-based computer hacking group that committed one
of the worst data breaches in history,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian
A. Benczkowski in a statement. “These defendants allegedly attacked U.S.
businesses operating in four distinct industry sectors, and violated the
privacy of over 78 million people by stealing their PII. The Department of
Justice and our law enforcement partners are committed to protecting PII, and
will aggressively prosecute perpetrators of hacking schemes like this, wherever
The DOJ also credited Anthem for its assistance. FBI Special
Agent in Charge Grant Mendenhall said that Anthem’s decision to quickly notify
the FBI of the network breach was a “key factor in being able to determine who
Wang is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud
and related activity in relation to computers and identity theft, one count of
conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and two substantive counts of intentional
damage to a protected computer.
Wang resides in Shenzhen, China, which does not have an
extradition agreement with the United States. The charges against him add to
the tension between the two nations, which are in the midst of high-stakes
trade negotiations about Chinese business practices.
“The Trump administration raised tariffs on $200 billion in
imported products from China at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday, significantly raising the
stakes in the ongoing trade dispute with Beijing,” according to NPR.
China has faced ongoing criticism for hacking into
businesses to steal intellectual property and confidential business
information. In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with U.S. President Barack
Obama to agree that neither country’s government would engage in cyber economic
espionage to steal trade secrets to pass them on to domestic companies.
“China and the United States are two major cyber countries
and we should strengthen dialogue and cooperation,” Xi said in a press
conference following the agreement. “Confrontation and friction are not made by
choice for both sides.”
Since Obama left office, however, that agreement appeared to
deteriorate with China resuming its hacking efforts against the United States.
“China’s actually backed off quite a bit on intellectual
property theft, but when it comes to military trade secrets, military
preparedness, military readiness, satellite communications, anything that
involves the U.S.’s ability to keep a cyber or military edge, China has been
very heavily focused on those targets,” said David Kennedy, CEO of Binary
Defense Systems, in an interview with WIRED.