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Email account of US Ambassador to China ‘attacked by Chinese hackers’ days after cyber-espionage campaign unearthed

US ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns's email account was hacked jeopardising a bulk of US government emails, the Wall Street Journal reported. The hackers, reportedly linked to Beijing, also breached the cyberspace of Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, and US Secretary Gina Raimondo's email.

US ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns’s email account was hacked jeopardising a bulk of US government emails, the Wall Street Journal reported. The hackers, reportedly linked to Beijing, also breached the cyberspace of Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, and US Secretary Gina Raimondo’s email.

Burns and Kritenbrink are the two senior-most officials of the US State Department to be targeted at a time when tension between US and China over a number of issues including spying is at its peak. A cyber-espionage campaign by hackers linked to China was unearthed on 12th July wherein over two dozen organisations including US government agencies were targeted.

The breach is said to be limited to unclassified emails but the inboxes of Burns and Kritenbrink reportedly could have exposed details of US administration’s planned trips to China and details of its policy towards China.

Hackers reportedly appeared to have targeted a select number of senior officials involved in the management of US-China relationship. “The Department continuously monitors and responds to the activity of concern on our networks. Our investigation is ongoing, and we cannot provide further details at this time,” a US State Department spokesman said.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his top aides’ accounts were not affected by the cyber attack. Microsoft has launched an investigation into the incident.

China’s global cyber attack campaign

White House National Security Council spokesman, Adam Hodge had reportedly informed that an intrusion was detected in Microsoft’s cloud security last month which affected unclassified systems. This after the 12th July breach wherein hackers, called Storm-0558 by Microsoft, broke into email accounts at 25 organisations and hit consumer accounts that were likely linked to the same organisations.

Microsoft said the hacks began in May but wasn’t unearthed until mid-June. The tech giant has reportedly offered free cloud security logs for all US customers amid pressure from US cybersecurity officials.

US lawmakers have reportedly raised alarms over China’s growing sophistication in cyber activities representing an increasing threat to US power grid. They have warned that cyberattacks from the communist country could plunge US military and other sensitive sites into darkness.

In June, a cybersecurity company named Mandiant reportedly said suspected state-backed Chinese hackers used a security hole in Barracuda Networks’ Email Security Gateway to break into the networks of hundreds of public and private sector organisations globally. These also involved government agencies including foreign ministries.

In May, the United States issued a warning against expected global cyber attacks from China and agencies accused China of spying on a wide range of US infrastructure organisations. Taiwan too has been on the receiving end of these attacks. Last month, Taiwan’s deputy minister of digital affairs Lee Huai Jen reportedly said that Taiwan is exposed to over 100 million cyber attacks a year originating from Beijing.

US military infra including that of the Navy in the US and Guam also fell prey to Chinese malware in May. Indian cyber security experts have alleged that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is using cyberspace to target Indian defense research organisations and other departments too.

In November last year, servers of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) were hacked forcing the hospital to go offline as it switched off online operations to contain the malware. Investigators led the hackers to a trail of IP addresses and email accounts which originated in China and Chinese-controlled Hong Kong.

Chinese Premiere Xi Jinping’s policies include a key focus on developing a strong cybersecurity and IT network even as global concerns over the country’s alleged misuse of the same are rising. China has repeatedly denied the allegations of these malware attacks and surveillance, and has rather pointed fingers at US on the matter.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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