US and Allies Accuse China of Sponsoring Cyberattacks

Move comes as part of a global coordinated effort to corner China's actions.
Ameya Paleja

The Joe Biden-led U.S. administration, along with its allies, has accused China of sponsoring cyberattacks on countries. The move comes months after Microsoft had laid similar allegations after its Exchange servers were hacked in March, earlier this year. This is the first step in a series of coordinated efforts being put by countries to counter China and its support of cyber espionage, Reuters reported

Joining the U.S., countries such as Norway, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Japan also released statements accusing the Chinese government of protecting cybercriminals and using them as a front to launch attacks on governments and private institutions around the world. 

The coordinated efforts closely followed the indictment of four Chinese nationals by the Justice Department in connection with a global computer intrusion campaign to gain intellectual property and confidential business information between 2011 and 2018. Three of the defendants were officials of China's Ministry of State Security (MSS) who were working to obfuscate the role of the Chinese government by operating through a private company. The fourth defendant was responsible for making the malware and hacking into foreign computers at the behest of his private employer. 

The Microsoft Exchange attack exploited vulnerabilities in the company's applications running on Exchange servers. While Microsoft issued patches to address them, at least six groups of hackers targeted these vulnerabilities before the patch could be released, demonstrating coordinated efforts. Microsoft had attributed the attacks to Hafnium, a China-based group of hackers.

In a statement released by the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, the Microsoft allegation was formally confirmed and the Chinese MSS was accused of fostering "an ecosystem of criminal contract hackers who carry out both state-sponsored activities and cybercrime for their own financial gain".  

While the coalition has not yet imposed any sanctions on China for these attacks, it has not ruled them out either, CNBC reported. For now, the approach seems to be a public confrontation. The U.S. has imposed stricter sanctions on Russia for its role in "SolarWinds" hacks at the beginning of the year. 

The spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington has denied its role in any of the attacks and called the allegations "irresponsible."

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