Beijing on Tuesday pushed back against accusations from the US and its allies that China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) was responsible for a series of cyberattacks, including the hack of the Microsoft Exchange Server, which was discovered earlier this year.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the claims against the MSS were “fabricated” and repeated accusations China has made against the CIA. Zhao cited a 2020 Chinese cybersecurity report that accused the CIA of hacking critical Chinese infrastructure for an 11-year period, between 2008 and 2019. The report used data from WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 releases that revealed hacking tools used by the CIA.
“China once again strongly demands that the United States and its allies stop cyber theft and attacks against China, stop throwing mud at China on cybersecurity issues and withdraw the so-called prosecution,” Zhao said. “China will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard China’s cybersecurity and interests.”
The US was joined by many of its allies when it accused Beijing of being behind the Microsoft hack, including the UK, the EU, and most notably, NATO. Before Monday, NATO had not involved itself in accusations over China’s alleged cyber activities. The military alliance recently added cyberattacks to the list of reasons to invoke NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense clause.
Similar to US hacking accusations against Russia, no evidence was offered to prove the MSS was involved in the Microsoft hack. When the intrusion was first announced in March, Microsoft said it determined with “high confidence” that a group name Hafnium was responsible, which Microsoft assessed to be “state-sponsored and operating out of China.” Backing up Microsoft’s assessment, a US official told reporters that the US government assessed with “high confidence” that hackers affiliated with MSS were responsible.
The US Justice Department on Monday unsealed indictments against four Chinese nationals who allegedly coordinated a hacking campaign on behalf of the MSS between 2011 and 2018. The US hasn’t threatened additional actions yet, but the accusation could be used as a pretext for sanctions. The Biden administration has hit Russia with sanctions and expelled Russian diplomats over similar claims.