A new investigative report suggests thieves working for a foreign government may have been responsible for the massive 2017 Equifax data breach that affected more than 140 million people.

The data has never been found. And, if it was sold on the dark web, it doesn't seem anybody noticed.

So, what happened?

CNBC has just released a jaw-dropping report that claims a growing number of experts now think it's possible that a foreign government is using the information -- not for financial gain -- but instead as a method of identifying and recruiting potential spies.

The cable network claims there are two prevailing theories:

  1. Some people with law enforcement backgrounds believe criminals stole the data and aren't selling it online because the data is "too hot," and they are worried they'll be caught. So, they're waiting for a safer time to risk putting it up for sale.
  2. Officials with intelligence backgrounds, however, appear to be favoring the idea that agents working for a foreign government are responsible for what happened. And, naturally, they wouldn't be selling the data -- but rather using it to their benefit.

If the second concept is correct, here's how it would look: Foreign agents would most likely be analyzing data to find people in government positions who also have significant financial issues and would be easier to turn into spies through bribery.

"Financial distress is one of the most common reasons people commit espionage," CNBC reported.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Equifax told 10News it had no statement beyond what it already told the cable network:

"We have been working very closely with authorities — federal authorities, state authorities — as well as our partners and customers, and our own very advanced threat intelligence team," Jamil Farshchi, chief information security officer at Equifax, told CNBC. "We are all working to be able to consistently determine whether this data is out there and whether it has ever been out there. And at this time there has been absolutely no indication, whatsoever, that the data has been disclosed, that it has been used or that it has been offered for sale."

Equifax data breach: What's changed since the huge hack of personal information?

What other people are reading right now:

Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the 10News app now.

Have a news tip? Email desk@wtsp.com, or visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed.