US and allies blame China for massive Microsoft email hack, other attacks

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The US and its allies slammed China on Monday for a wide range of “malicious cyber activities” — including a massive hack of Microsoft’s email service earlier this year that exposed the private information of thousands of Americans.

In a scathing statement, the White House accused China of fostering “an intelligence enterprise that includes contract hackers who also conduct unsanctioned cyber operations worldwide,” blaming the country’s Ministry of State Security for everything from ransomware attacks and extortion to cryptocurrency heists and “rank theft.” 

In particular, the US slammed China for a breach of Microsoft’s Exchange email service that was first disclosed this March. 

In the breach, hackers associated with the Ministry of State Security accessed thousands of email accounts associated with businesses, government offices and schools around the world, according to the White House. The hack likely “netted high-value espionage targets,” the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. 

Microsoft blamed the breach on Chinese hackers back in March — but Monday marks the first time the US government has backed up those claims “with a high degree of confidence.” 

Microsoft and China’s foreign ministry did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

US allies including the European Union and the UK also blamed China for the Microsoft Exchange attack on Monday. 

“The cyber attack on Microsoft Exchange Server by Chinese state-backed groups was a reckless but familiar pattern of behavior,” said UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, while the EU said Chinese hacks had resulted in “significant economic loss” for European governments and companies.

Also on Monday, the US Department of Justice announced charges against four Chinese nationals who they accused of working with China’s Ministry of State Security to hack into systems belonging to companies, universities and governments to steal information — including research into infectious diseases.  

The accusations come during a period of skyrocketing tensions between the world’s two largest economies. Last week, the US slammed seven Chinese officials with sanctions over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and warned international companies against doing business in the city.

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