The United States, along with Western allies officially accused the Chinese government of working with cybercriminals who used ransomware to extort U.S. businesses, and for playing a role in the cyberattack on Microsoft Exchange email server software earlier this year.
In a statement released on Monday, the White House said the number of allied nations involved in the condemnation, which includes the European Union, the United Kingdom, NATO Australia and Japan is unprecedented.
“The People’s Republic of China’s pattern of irresponsible behavior in cyberspace is inconsistent with its stated objective of being seen as a responsible leader in the world,” the White House said.
Earlier this year, hackers were able to exploit a weakness in Microsoft’s Exchange Server to access email accounts and install malware, and that is largely the reason for the statement by the U.S. and its allies, an official told NBC News. In a March 2021 blog post announcing the hack, Microsoft said that its Threat Intelligence Center believed with “high confidence” that the campaign was carried out by HAFNIUM, a hacking group affiliated with China’s government. China has denied involvement.
Although the statement was not accompanied by sanctions against the Chinese government, the Biden administration said using a “collective approach” to cyber threats will help “hold countries like China to account.”
“Working collectively enhances and increases information sharing, including cyber threat intelligence and network defense information, with public and private stakeholders and expand diplomatic engagement to strengthen our collective cyber resilience and security cooperation,” the statement said.
According to the AP, a senior Biden administration said the announcement was intended as a forceful condemnation of China’s activities that he described as a “pattern of irresponsible behavior in cyberspace.” And said that the U.S. “has confronted senior Chinese officials and that the White House regards the multination public shaming as sending an important message.”
But the Biden administration is “not ruling out further action to hold [China] accountable,” the senior administration official who briefed reporters said. “We’re also aware that no one action can change behavior, and neither can one country acting on its own,” the official added. “So we really focused initially on bringing other countries along with us.”
While in 2020 the U.S. accused some members of Chinese intelligence of using their hacking skills to commit cybercrime independently from the government, this is the first time the U.S. has accused China’s government of directly assisting the hackers.