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US officials say China targeted State Department email in Microsoft hack

US officials said Wednesday that in June Secretary of State Antony J. A few weeks before Blinken’s trip to Beijing, Chinese hackers tried to break into specific State Department email accounts.

US officials said an investigation into the effort by Chinese hackers, possibly affiliated with China’s military or spy services, is ongoing. But US officials have rejected the idea that hackers stole sensitive information, insisting that no classified email or cloud systems were penetrated. The State Department’s cyber security team first detected the intrusion.

Multiple officials said the attack was aimed at individual email accounts rather than the large-scale data intrusion that Chinese hackers suspect has been done before, Biden administration officials declined to identify which officials were targeted by the Chinese hackers.

Microsoft, which Hack disclosed on Tuesday, said that according to their investigation, the hack began in May, and was discovered on June 16, just before Mr. Blinken’s visit to Beijing. He left Washington that evening. The visit was significant to both Washington and Beijing: it was the first visit by a US Secretary of State to China in five years and was aimed at establishing high-level channels of communication and improving deteriorating relations. Since then, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has visited Beijing, and special climate envoy John Kerry plans to arrive there on Sunday. four day talks,

President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to make the effort at a meeting in Bali, Indonesia last November stabilize relationshipsBut the two countries clashed when the Pentagon discovered and shot down a Chinese spy balloon floating over the continental United States in early February. Mr. Blinken canceled a trip to China during that episode, then a few weeks later publicly accused China of considering sending military aid to Russia for use in Ukraine.

A senior State Department official, discussing the sensitive incident on condition of anonymity, said the hack initially had nothing to do directly with the trip. Other officials cautioned that the investigation into what, if any, material was stolen by the hackers was still in its early stages.

In a statement on Wednesday, the State Department said the government took steps to secure the system after detecting “unusual activity” and would “continue to closely monitor and respond promptly to any further activity.” “

After the State Department notified Microsoft of the hack, the company found that the hackers had also targeted about 25 organizations, including government agencies. Microsoft, which described the attack as hackers going after specific accounts rather than a broader intrusion, did not say how many accounts it believed may have been compromised by the Chinese hackers.

The United States and China are locked in an intense intelligence competition, with both governments trying to expand their collections on each other. US officials said that although such spying and hacking are to be expected, they are conducting a robust investigation to close the exploit used by Chinese hackers against the State Department, as well as other potential security vulnerabilities in cloud computing. are doing.

The State Department continues to be the target of foreign government hacking. Russian intelligence has repeatedly targeted State Department computer networks. In 2014 and 2015, Russian hackers broke into the State Department, Joint Chiefs of Staff and White House and other critical, but unclassified, computer networks.

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