© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: This illustration photo dated July 12, 2017 shows computer code on a screen over a Chinese flag. REUTERS / Thomas White / Illustration / File Photo
By Steve Holland and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and a coalition of allies accused China on Monday of a global cyber hacking campaign using contract hackers, in particular leading a major attack by Microsoft (NASDAQ :), the beginning of this one Actors working for Beijing were announced this year.
The United States is opening up a new area of tension with China and is joining NATO, the European Union, Great Britain, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada to dispel the allegations.
“The United States and countries around the world blame the People’s Republic of China for its irresponsible, disruptive and destabilizing behavior in cyberspace, which poses a major threat to our economic and national security,” said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement on Monday.
Also on Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that four Chinese nationals – three security officers and one contract hacker – were charged in a global hacking campaign targeting dozens of companies, universities, and government agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The activities took place between 2011 and 2018 and focused on information that would greatly benefit Chinese businesses and corporations, it said.
The opening of a new front in the governments’ war on hacking comes a month after G7 and NATO leaders agreed with President Joe Biden at summits in Cornwall, England and Brussels to accuse China of systemic challenges for the country To face world order.
Governments officially attributed the breaches of Microsoft Exchange Server uncovered in March to “cyber actors” associated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security Blinken.
Governments officially listed intruders who exploited security vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange Server that became known in March as “cyber actors affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security,” Blinken said.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Chinese officials previously said China is also a victim of hacker attacks and opposes all forms of cyberattacks.
US officials said the scale and extent of the hacking attacks attributed to China surprised them, as did China’s use of “criminal contract hackers.”
“The Ministry of State Security (MSS) of the PRC has promoted an ecosystem of criminal contract hackers who carry out both government-sponsored activities and cybercrime for their own financial gain,” said Blinken.
US security and intelligence agencies will outline more than 50 techniques and procedures that “China-sponsored actors” are using to target US networks, a senior administration official said.
Chinese government-sponsored cyber actors consistently scan target networks for critical and high security vulnerabilities within days of the vulnerability being published, according to the 31-page US cybersecurity recommendation from Reuters.
The United States has been drawing great attention to Russia in recent months by accusing Russian cyberhackers of a series of ransomware attacks in the United States.
In Monday’s announcement, US officials officially blamed the Chinese government “with a high degree of trust” for the hack that hit businesses and government agencies in the United States via a Microsoft email service. Microsoft has already blamed China for responsibility.
Vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Exchange program, a common e-mail software, were specifically exploited. Cybersecurity experts were stunned by the scale and scope of the incident, which included thousands of potential US victims.
The senior Biden government official said U.S. concerns about Chinese cyber activities had been raised with senior Chinese officials. “We are not ruling out further action to bring the PRC to justice,” the official said.
The US and China have already fallen out over trade, China’s military build-up, crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, the treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, and aggression in the South China Sea.
On Friday, the Biden government issued a warning to warn US companies of risks to their operations and activities in Hong Kong after China introduced a new national security law last year.
Blinken cited the Justice Department’s indictment against the three Chinese security officers and a contract hacker as an example of how the US will draw conclusions.
The defendants and officials from the Hainan State Security Ministry, a regional state security bureau, tried to use a front company to hide the Chinese government’s role in information theft, according to the indictment, which was returned in May and unsealed on Friday.
The campaign targeted trade secrets in industries such as aerospace, defense, education, government, healthcare, biopharmaceutical and maritime industries, the Justice Department statement said.
Victims were in Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“These criminal charges re-emphasize that China, in blatant disregard of its bilateral and multilateral commitments, continues to use cyber-assisted attacks to steal what other countries are doing,” US Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in the statement.