A cyberattack by a group of hackers based in China resulted in the theft of approximately 60,000 emails from the U.S. State Department, a Senate source has revealed. These breaches targeted Microsoft's email platform earlier this year.
The confidential source, associated with Senator Eric Schmitt of Missouri, confirmed that IT officials from the State Department informed U.S. legislators about the security compromise. Notably, all the affected email accounts were associated with matters concerning East Asia and the Pacific, Reuters reports.
Earlier in June, hackers with alleged affiliations to the Chinese Communist Party managed to exploit vulnerabilities in Microsoft's system. This intrusion facilitated unauthorized access to several U.S. agency accounts that interact with China, just prior to a scheduled visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, called the accusation “disinformation” to distract from the U.S. committing cyber espionage against China.
“No matter which agency issued this information, it will never change the fact that the United States is the world’s largest hacker empire conducting the most cyber theft,” Wenbin said, according to The Associated Press.
News of the breach emerged in July, leading U.S. authorities to promptly respond to China's recurrent and audacious cyber-espionage activities targeting vital infrastructure to obtain confidential data.
In a blog post, Microsoft revealed the cyber attack, attributing it to a state-sponsored Chinese hacking group "known to target government agencies in Western Europe" by the name of Storm-0558. Starting in May, this group gained access to email accounts from around 25 entities, encompassing government bodies and related consumer accounts presumably linked to these agencies.
Following Wednesday's briefing, Schmitt told Reuters through a statement provided by the staffer that the federal government ought to “take a hard look” at relying on a single IT vendor as “a potential weak point.”
“We need to harden our defenses against these types of cyberattacks and intrusions in the future,” Schmitt said.