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US And China: Chinese Hackers Stole Several Thousand Emails from The US State Department

The attack, which targeted Microsoft’s Outlook messaging system in July, allowed the Chinese hackers behind it to gain access to tens of thousands of emails from accounts linked to the US State Department. Chinese intelligence services are likely celebrating. Event adding tensions between US and China relations.

This summer, Microsoft revealed that a malicious intrusion had been identified on its Outlook messaging service on July 11, 2023. It is now learned that the Chinese hackers behind this attack managed to seize tens of thousands of emails from accounts linked to the US State Department. This is at least what Reuters claims, citing information obtained from an employee of the US Senate.

According to the British news agency, the employee in question (attached to the office of Eric Schmitt, a Republican representative from Missouri in the Senate) was able to attend an information meeting with the IT officials of the State Department, during which it was indicated that this Outlook hack allowed the hackers to steal approximately 60,000 emails from 10 State Department accounts. Among these 10 victims, it is also learned that nine of them work in East Asia or the Pacific, and another is based in Europe.

An Event That Will Not Help Alleviate Tensions Between the US And China

Even more concerning, US authorities and Microsoft declared in July that hackers linked to the Chinese government had accessed the email accounts of around 25 organizations, including the US Departments of Commerce and Foreign Affairs, since May. The extent of compromise of these various departments is unknown, but this situation tends to further escalate the existing tensions between Washington and Beijing. However, China has denied any responsibility for this attack.

US And China Hackers

As reported by Reuters, the Outlook hack has in any case compromised the accounts of State Department employees, particularly those involved in diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region, which is becoming increasingly strategic for both the United States and China. In parallel, it is discovered that this attack allowed the hackers to obtain a list containing all the department’s emails. A potentially valuable document for implementing future, more targeted attacks.

Towards Diversification for Increased Security

The case highlights the dependence of US authorities on a single service provider: Microsoft. This dependence, while convenient, also shows its limits in terms of security. The State Department has thus begun to adopt “hybrid” work environments, combining services from multiple providers, and is seeking to popularize multi-factor authentication to better protect itself against attacks and other intrusion attempts.

“We must carefully examine the federal government’s dependence on a single provider, as it constitutes a potential weakness,” commented Senator Eric Schmitt in an email shared with Reuters. Microsoft, for its part, has been subject to sharp criticism regarding its security practices, especially in the context of this incident.

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