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China rejects Microsoft hacking charges, accuses U.S. of cyberespionage

Woman walking by Microsoft building in Beijing
A woman walks by the Microsoft office building in Beijing on Tuesday.
(Andy Wong / Associated Press)

China on Tuesday rejected accusations by Washington and its allies that Beijing is to blame for a hack of the Microsoft Exchange email system and complained that Chinese entities are victims of damaging U.S. cyberattacks.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman also demanded that Washington drop charges announced Monday against four Chinese nationals who are accused of working with Ministry of State Security to try to steal U.S. trade secrets, technology and disease research.

The announcement that the Biden administration and European allies formally blame Chinese government-linked hackers for ransomware attacks heightened the rhetoric of complaints against Beijing but included no sanctions.

“The United States ganged up with its allies to make unwarranted accusations against Chinese cybersecurity,” said Zhao Lijian, the foreign ministry spokesman. “This was made up out of thin air and confused right and wrong. It is purely a smear and suppression with political motives.

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“China will never accept this,” Zhao said, though he gave no indication of possible retaliation.

China is a leader in cyberwarfare research along with the United States and Russia, but Beijing denies accusations that Chinese hackers steal trade secrets and technology. Security experts say the Chinese military and security ministry also sponsor hackers outside the government.

A large-scale cyber-spying campaign blamed on China might have given hackers access to the networks of critical U.S. companies and agencies.

On Monday, U.S. authorities said government-affiliated hackers targeted American and other victims with demands for millions of dollars. Officials alleged that contract hackers associated with the Ministry of State Security engaged in extortion schemes and theft for their own profit.

Microsoft blamed Chinese spies for the Microsoft Exchange attack earlier this year that compromised tens of thousands of computers around the world. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Monday called the hack “a reckless but familiar pattern of behavior.”

Also Monday, the Justice Department announced charges against four Chinese nationals who prosecutors said worked with Chinese security officials to target computers at companies, universities and government entities. The defendants are accused of targeting trade secrets, scientific technologies and infectious-disease research.

“China firmly opposes and combats any form of cyberattacks, and will not encourage, support or condone any cyberattacks,” Zhao said.

Equifax, like most large U.S. companies, failed to encrypt the databases that store some of the most sensitive details of people’s lives.

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Citing what he said was Chinese cybersecurity research, Zhao accused the CIA of carrying out hacking attacks on China’s aerospace research facilities, oil industry, internet companies and government agencies over an 11-year period.

Those attacks “severely compromised” national and economic security, Zhao said.

“China once again strongly demands that the United States and its allies stop cybertheft and attacks against China, stop throwing mud at China on cybersecurity issues and withdraw the so-called prosecution,” he said. “China will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard China’s cybersecurity and interests.”


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