The US Ambassador Nicholas Burns’ email accounts were hacked by China-based hackers, the Wall Street Journal reported. The hacking was reportedly part of a ‘targeted intelligence-gathering campaign’. Daniel Kritenbrink is another official, whose email accounts were targeted. Kritenbrink is the assistant secretary of State for East Asia, who recently traveled with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China.
On July 13, the email accounts of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and other State Department officials were hacked, CNN reported. At the time, email accounts of about 25 organizations, including some US government entities were affected. Also, Microsoft had said that said a Chinese group known as Storm-0558 managed to use a Microsoft consumer signing key to gain access to the accounts, SCMP reported. Microsoft is a major provider of IT services to the American government.
The hacking of the accounts of Burns and Kritenbrink seemed to be related to the hacking of Raimondo’s account last week. The hackers, reportedly, did not breach classified emails. There is no confirmation whether Antony Blinken and his direct aides had been affected, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Chinese embassy in Washington termed the allegations “groundless.” “China firmly opposes and combats cyber attacks and cyber theft in all forms,” embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu told SCMP. The hacking reportedly began in mid-May and Blinken raised the issue when he met with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi last week.
The U.S. Secretary noted he made clear to Wang that Washington will ensure the hackers are held responsible for alleged breaches of U.S. government agencies.
“First of all, this is something that the State Department actually detected last month, and we took immediate steps to protect our systems, to report the incident – in this case, notifying a company, Microsoft, of the event,” Blinken said at a press briefing.
“I can’t discuss details of our response beyond that, and most critically this incident remains under investigation,” he added.
Still, Blinken said that as a general matter, “we have consistently made clear to China as well as to other countries that any action that targets the U.S. Government or U.S. companies, American citizens, is of deep concern to us, and we will take appropriate action in response.”