The company says the Chinese hack of a Microsoft engineer compromised emails of US officials

Ana Ryu / Visual China Group / Getty Images

A Microsoft sign is seen at the company’s corporate headquarters on March 19, 2023, in Seattle, Washington.


The company revealed on Wednesday that the Chinese hackers who broke into the emails of senior US officials in May and June managed to do so by first stealing sensitive data from a Microsoft engineer.

The tech giant said several mishaps, including an internal Microsoft system crash in April 2021 and an engineer hack, gave Chinese hackers access to an encryption key that was later used to break into email accounts of US officials. blog post.

The statement sheds new light on a cyber-espionage campaign that has caused an uproar in Washington. The hackers had breached the email accounts of US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, prior to Raimondo’s trip to China.

Republican Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska, who has been critical of the Chinese government, said he was also hacked by the hackers.

Chinese government officials responded to the hacking allegations by accusing the US government of launching cyber attacks against China.

Microsoft is under scrutiny from US lawmakers and officials who have demanded more information about how alleged Chinese hackers breached email accounts. The Cyber ​​Safety Review Board backed by the Department of Homeland Security – a panel of US government and private sector experts – is investigating the root causes of the breach.

Microsoft said on Wednesday that it has corrected technical issues that allowed hackers to obtain the encryption key from its internal system.

“Microsoft is constantly strengthening systems as part of our defense-in-depth strategy,” the company said.

The alleged Chinese hacking campaign came at a particularly sensitive time in US-China relations, as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was preparing to take a high-stakes trip to China in June. As previously reported by CNN, the Biden administration believes the Chinese hacking gave Beijing insights into US thinking ahead of the Blinken trip.

Although the State Department confronted the Chinese government about the hack, Rob Joyce, a senior official at the National Security Agency, described the activity as ordinary espionage.

“That’s what nation-states do,” Joyce said in July. “We have to defend against it, we have to fight it. But this is something that happens.”

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