Washington and its allies condemned Monday, July 19, in a concerted campaign, the supposedly ‘malicious’ cyber activities of Beijing and blamed it for the massive hack carried out in March against the Microsoft group’s Exchange messaging services.
The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, NATO and even Canada have, in separate press releases, called on China to act ‘responsibly’ in cyberspace. If everyone has chosen their words, this is the broadest condemnation at this time of Chinese digital activities. However, it is not accompanied by an announcement of sanctions or reprisals, which, according to experts, limits its scope.
The United States adopted a stern tone unlikely to improve the already strained relations between the two powers. President Joe Biden thus accused the Chinese authorities of ‘protecting’ the perpetrators of cyberattacks, or even of ‘giving them the means to act’. China has ‘irresponsible, disruptive and destabilizing behavior in cyberspace, which poses a major threat to the economy and security’ of the United States and its partners, added US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
London has displayed the same firmness. ‘The Chinese government must end its systematic cybersabotage and must be held accountable if it does not,’ said British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.
In a more cautious statement, NATO for its part ‘took note’ of the statements of its members on China. ‘We call on all states, including China, to respect their international obligations and commitments (…), including in cyberspace,’ the Transatlantic Alliance added.
Four Chinese hackers indicted
China firmly denied responsibility for the cyber attacks on Tuesday, with its embassy in New Zealand deeming Wellington’s accusations in this regard ‘unfounded and irresponsible’. ‘The investigation and characterization of incidents that occur on the Internet must be based on sufficient evidence. It is malicious slander to lay charges without proof. ‘
According to Washington, the Chinese government is ‘using criminal hackers’ to carry out attacks around the world. American justice has also revealed the indictment of four Chinese hackers including three ‘agents of the Ministry of State Security’, accused of having entered the systems of companies, universities and the government between 2011 and 2018 to steal data or technology.
The information stolen, in many countries including Germany and Indonesia, related in particular to autonomous vehicles, chemical formulas or genetic sequencing technologies, according to the US Department of Justice.
Accused of the theft of industrial secrets, Chinese hackers can also be motivated by ‘personal profit’, a senior US official said on condition of anonymity. He spoke of extortion attempts and ‘million dollar ransom demands’ from private companies by what he describes as Chinese hackers.
Massive hacking against Microsoft
In their press releases, Brussels, London and Washington formally blame China for the massive hacking carried out in March against the Microsoft group’s Exchange messaging services, which killed tens of thousands of people around the world. The tech giant had already pointed out a group of hackers accused of being linked to Beijing, dubbed ‘Hafnium’.
‘Hackers continue to this day to exploit these security loopholes,’ European diplomacy said, stressing the security threat and ‘significant economic losses’ for the EU. She also denounced the activity of a group of hackers known as APT40 and APT31 (for ‘Advanced Persistent Threat’) who, according to her, carried out attacks’ from Chinese territory with for the purpose of stealing secrets or espionage ‘.