Photo Credit: The New York Times
At the beginning of the year, multiple individuals reported that their Microsoft email accounts had been hacked. The hacks began to grow with an estimated tens of thousands of individuals being the subject of these hacks of personal information and data. With many of America’s top businesses and government agencies becoming victims of such acts, as many use Microsoft email service, this has become a pressing concern that has led to President Biden taking action. This Monday, the Biden administration, according to The New York Times, “formally accused the Chinese government of breaching Microsoft email systems used by many of the world’s largest companies, governments, and military contractors, as the United States joined a broad group of allies, including all NATO members, to condemn Beijing for cyberattacks around the world.”
On April 13th, 2021, “The U.S. government’s cybersecurity agency issued an emergency warning.” The declaration contained background information on the matter, outlined required actions that individuals should take, as well as the duration in which such actions should take place. The hacks, if done correctly, were described to be able to allow “an attacker to access on-premises Exchange Servers, enabling them to gain persistent system access and control of an enterprise network”. To further express the severity of the issue the “CISA has determined that this exploitation of Microsoft Exchange on-premises products poses an unacceptable risk to Federal Civilian Executive Branch agencies and requires emergency action.”
Later on, on March 5th, a cybersecurity reporter by the name of Brian Krebs had reported that the hacking attacks have affected over 30,000 Microsoft customers. Within those 30,000 held a broad range all the way from small businesses to multi-million dollar corporations and government organizations. When looking at who was responsible for the hack, “Microsoft had pointed to hackers linked to the Chinese Ministry of State Security for exploiting holes in the company’s email systems in March.”
When asked to comment upon the issue, “Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “China has reiterated on multiple occasions that given the virtual nature of cyberspace and the fact that there are all kinds of online actors who are difficult to trace, tracing the source of cyberattacks is a complex technical issue. It is also a highly sensitive political issue to pin the label of cyberattack to a certain government.”
Although it was detected in January that these hacks were happening, they were still continuing to grow. The hacks were first detected by Volexity, a Washington, D.C.-based cybersecurity firm. Although both the firm and Microsoft continued to employ efforts to prevent the hacks from continuing, they only continued to grow, making the Biden Administration step in to help alleviate such problems.
In a statement issued by the White House, The United States, for the first time accused China of “paying criminal groups to conduct large-scale hackings, including ransomware attacks to extort companies for millions of dollars.” This calling out led to a sign that there was a possibility that not only the U.S was falling victim to such attacks but other countries around the world as well.
Moreover, it was reported that in his statement, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated that “these contract hackers cost governments and businesses billions of dollars in stolen intellectual property, ransom payments, and cybersecurity mitigation efforts, all while the MSS had them on its payroll,” Mr. Blinken said. Adding on, it was urged by NATO in their statement that China should ‘uphold their international commitments and obligations and to act responsibly in the international system, including in cyberspace.”
Although it did take a lengthy amount of time, through a careful analysis conducted by the Biden Administration, they were able to come to the agreement that they believed China was indeed behind the hacks. Even though the hacks were not described as China’s most sophisticated efforts, it was still enough to gather multiple sources of data from large-scale corporations and bypass a multinational company withholding extremely important information.
This joint statement issued by the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, the European Union, Japan, and New Zealand, is meant to make China take account of their actions and prevent further hacks from happening in the future. Even so, the senior administration official acknowledged that “No one action can change China’s behavior in cyberspace, and neither could just one country acting on its own.”
With countries across the world working together along with Microsoft and other cybersecurity firms, they are taking steps to try to solve the ambiguity which is the internet. Having so much available to someone at the end of their fingertips, even government data and important information of multimillion-dollar companies available to able enough individuals the internet is a dangerous place even with all of its benefits. Thus, to prevent these issues and work together with these powerful firms and countries to combat such dangers we need to always keep in mind what is placed on the internet and what we leave ourselves susceptible to as although the law can always aid an individuals problem, there is no guarantee it can change others actions.
Watch White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, deliver the Biden Administration's response to Microsoft hackings: