NBC News has confirmed that China-linked hackers successfully breached the email account of U.S. Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, as part of a targeted intelligence-gathering campaign.
According to NBC News, in addition to breaching the email account of U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, the hackers also gained access to the email account of Daniel Kritenbrink, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia. Kritenbrink had recently traveled with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China. Two U.S. officials familiar with the matter confirmed this targeted cyberattack. CNBC attempted to reach out to China’s Foreign Ministry for comment, but as of now, there has been no response.
NBC reported that the breach was limited to the unclassified email accounts of the diplomats. Along with the previously reported access to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo’s email account, this incident has escalated concerns over the alleged Chinese hack, which was first revealed by the Wall Street Journal last week. The news adds to the ongoing fallout for the U.S. in the wake of the cyberattack, intensifying the need for enhanced cybersecurity measures and diplomatic response.
Microsoft made a late Tuesday announcement revealing that it had detected a significant breach in which China-based hackers targeted approximately 25 organizations, including certain U.S. government agencies. The breach involved the unauthorized access of email accounts, raising concerns over cybersecurity and the protection of sensitive information.
Microsoft’s cybersecurity teams successfully “mitigated” the compromise after the company was notified of the incident in mid-June 2023. The breach, as stated in two blog posts by Microsoft, had been ongoing since at least May, with the hackers gaining unauthorized access to government systems. The swift response from Microsoft’s cybersecurity experts helped contain the breach and prevent further unauthorized access to sensitive information.
During their meeting in Jakarta last week on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional gathering, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the matter of Chinese hacking with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi. Blinken emphasized to Wang that the U.S. is committed to holding the hackers accountable for their alleged breaches of U.S. government agencies. The meeting served as a platform for the U.S. to convey its stance on the issue and underscore its determination to address cybersecurity concerns with China.
During a press briefing, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the State Department detected the incident last month and promptly took necessary measures to safeguard its systems. The matter was reported to Microsoft to address the issue. Blinken emphasized that due to the ongoing investigation, he could not disclose further details about their response to the breach. The incident is being thoroughly investigated to understand the full scope and implications of the breach.
Nevertheless, Blinken reiterated that the United States has consistently conveyed to China, and other nations, that any actions targeting the U.S. Government, American companies, or citizens are a matter of grave concern. He emphasized that appropriate measures will be taken in response to such actions. The recent meeting between Blinken and Wang occurred less than a month after Blinken’s uncommon visit to Beijing, marking a significant engagement between the two countries during the Biden administration.
The purpose of the visit was to ease tensions between the world’s two largest economies amid rising escalations. Security experts have pointed out that these incidents highlight a significant increase in Beijing’s digital espionage capabilities. In a recent blog post, cybersecurity firm Mandiant’s researchers stated that Chinese cyber espionage operators have evolved their tactics over the past decade to become more agile, stealthy, and intricate, making attribution more challenging.