The White House is formally accusing China of an attack on Microsoft that compromised tens of thousands of computers worldwide.
The massive attack on Microsoft’s Exchange email server software allowed hackers to gain access to sensitive data belonging to businesses, local and state governments and some military contractors, reports NPR. An unidentified American company was also hit with a demand for a ransom.
Until now, the United States has not publicly blamed Beijing for the cyberattack, holding off for investigators to find direct evidence linking hackers to the Chinese government.
A senior Biden administration official said the attacks posed serious economic and national security threats, and that the US was joined by the EU, the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO in condemning Beijing for the attacks.
"The United States has long been concerned about the People’s Republic of China’s irresponsible and destabilizing behavior in cyberspace," said the official, adding:
"Their operations include criminal activities, such as cyber-enabled extortion, crypto-jacking and theft from victims around the world for financial gain. In some cases, we’re aware of reports that PRC government-affiliated cyber operators have conducted ransomware operations against private companies that have included ransom demands of millions of dollars.”
The official said the matter had been raised with China, although no sanctions against the state have been brought: "The first important piece is the publicly calling out the pattern of irresponsible malicious cyberactivity, and doing it with allies and partners."
The Associated Press reported that previously, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing "firmly opposes and combats cyber-attacks and cyber theft in all forms" and called accusations that China was responsible for such attacks ‘”groundless”.