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.
The US is constantly accusing countries like Russia and China of carrying out cyberattacks, and comments from President Biden on Tuesday suggest he could use these claims as a pretext for military intervention. He warned that if Washington ended up in a “real shooting war with a major power,” it could be the result of a cyberattack on the US.
“You know, we’ve seen how cyber threats, including ransomware attacks, increasingly are able to cause damage and disruption to the real world,” Biden said in a speech during a visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “I think it’s more likely we’re going to end up — well, if we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence.”
The US and several allies, including NATO, recently accused China of being behind the hack of the Microsoft Exchange Server that was discovered earlier this year. Like similar claims against Russia, the US offered no evidence to back up the accusation. The accusation marked the first time NATO joined in on such claims against China. The alliance recently added cyberattacks to the list of reasons to make NATO invoke the Article 5 mutual defense clause, which would spark a war with all 30 of its members.
In his speech, Biden addressed the so-called “threats” from Russia and China. Taking a shot at Russia, Biden said President Vladimir Putin is “sitting on top of an economy that has nuclear weapons and oil wells and nothing else. He said this makes Putin “even more dangerous.”
Biden spoke of his time with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Obama Administration, when both leaders were serving as vice presidents. Biden said Xi wants China to become “the most powerful military force in the world” as well as the “most prominent economy” by the 2040s.
Hyping the threat of China serves Biden to justify his spending bills, whether it’s the Pentagon budget or his infrastructure plan. Biden has repeatedly framed the relationship as competition for the 21st century, something he repeated on Tuesday. “You know, as we compete for the future of the 21st century with China and other nations, we have to stay on top of the cutting-edge developments of science and technology,” he said.
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Author: Dave DeCamp
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