China yesterday said that the US had “fabricated” allegations it carried out a massive Microsoft hack, countering that Washington was the “world champion” of cyberattacks, while raging at the US’ allies for signing up to a rare joint statement of condemnation.
The US on Monday accused Beijing of carrying out a March cyberattack on Microsoft Exchange, a top e-mail server for corporations around the world, and charged four Chinese over the “malicious” hack.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the attack was part of a pattern of irresponsible, disruptive and destabilizing behavior in cyberspace.
The Chinese Ministry of State Security has fostered an ecosystem of criminal contract hackers who carry out both state-sponsored activities and cybercrime for their own financial gain, Blinken said in a statement.
In a simultaneous announcement, the US Department of Justice said that four Chinese had been charged with hacking the computers of dozens of companies, universities and government bodies in the US and abroad between 2011 and 2018.
US President Joe Biden told reporters that Washington was still completing an investigation before taking any countermeasures, and drew parallels with the murky, but prolific cybercrimes attributed by Western officials to Russia.
“The Chinese government, not unlike the Russian government, is not doing this themselves, but are protecting those who are doing it, and maybe even accommodating them being able to do it,” Biden told reporters.
In an effort to put the diplomatic squeeze on Beijing, the US coordinated its statement with its allies — the EU, the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO.
China hit back, calling the allegations of a Beijing-supported cyberattack campaign “fabricated.”
“The US has mustered its allies to carry out unreasonable criticisms against China on the issue of cybersecurity,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) told reporters in Beijing. “This move is fabricated out of nothing.”
Earlier, China’s diplomatic missions around the world rattled out rebuttals, as Beijing made its own coordinated defense.
The Chinese embassy in New Zealand called the allegations “totally groundless and irresponsible,” while the embassy in Australia accused Canberra of “parroting the rhetoric of the US.”
Biden has ramped up pressure on China, seeing the rising Asian power’s increasingly assertive moves at home and abroad as the main long-term threat to the US.
Allies backed up the castigation of China, with British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab describing the cyberattack as “reckless.”
NATO offered “solidarity” over the Microsoft hacking without directly assigning blame.
US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said it was the first time that NATO has condemned cyberactivity from China.
“We know we’ll be stronger, we know we’ll be more effective when we act collectively,” Price said, adding that the US was not ruling out further action.
The Microsoft hack, which exploited flaws in the Microsoft Exchange service, affected at least 30,000 US organizations, including local governments, as well as organizations worldwide.
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