U.S. cyber officials are blaming hackers tied to the Chinese government for one of the largest cyberattacks in U.S. history

July 23, 2021

The FBI and NSA have “high confidence” that hackers contracted by China’s Ministry of State Security carried out the cyberattack on the Microsoft Exchange email server this spring, a breach that exposed tens of thousands of private and public U.S. entities.  Officials say the attack was just one example of Chinese hacker’s use of “ransomware” to threaten businesses and extort millions of dollars. 

During a call earlier this week, a senior official of the Biden Administration said China’s Ministry of State Security “uses criminal contract hackers to conduct unsanctioned cyber operations globally, including for their own personal profit.” The official revealed that Chinese government-affiliated hackers were also responsible for a recent ransomware attack on an unnamed American company.  The U.S., along with key global allies, stood united in condemning the Chinese government for their actions – signaling to China that its cyberattacks will not be tolerated and countries around the world will take all necessary measures to protect their networks.  

While both the recent Russian and Chinese cyberattacks have been in the news, a key difference is that the Chinese hackers are seemingly on the Government’s payroll – while the Russian hackers have a less obvious connection to Russian intelligence agencies. Additionally, the Chinese attacks, like the Microsoft Exchange hack earlier this year, have been executed on a much higher scale. The Microsoft Exchange server attack became public in March and is believed to have hit at least 30,000 American organizations and hundreds of thousands more worldwide. Microsoft quickly identified the group behind the hack as a relatively unknown Chinese espionage network dubbed Hafnium. 

For now, the multinational cybersecurity effort is focused on cooperative security and threat alerts, and not on retaliation. The White House has raised the Microsoft attacks with senior members of the Chinese government, “making clear that the [People’s Republic of China] actions threaten security, confidence, and stability in cyberspace,” said a senior official.  However, Chinese officials denied responsibility, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin insisting China “firmly opposes and combats cyber-attacks and cyber theft in all forms.” 

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