Yesterday the United States, along with its Five Eyes partners and NATO took the unprecedented step of openly accusing China of a global cyberespionage campaign.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Chinese sponsored attacks posed “a major threat to our economic and national security”.

The statements came after the allies received internal assessments of the massive global hack of Microsoft email server software in February. The target of the hack looks to have been U.S. policy think tanks, but its scope encompassed a vast range of victims and their data.

The US Department of Justice has charged four Chinese nationals with targeting dozens of companies, universities and government agencies in the United States and abroad. The four accused included three security officials and one contract hacker.

Chinese reject accusations

China responded overnight through foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who said the accusation was “fabricated out of thin air” for political goals.

“China will absolutely not accept this,” he told a regular news conference in Beijing on Tuesday. China does not engage in cyberattacks, and the technical details Washington has provided “do not constitute a complete chain of evidence”, he said.

Zhao Lijian went on to accuse the US of “being the largest source of cyber attacks in the world,” during a press conference in Beijing.

Strangely, President Biden refused to blame the Chinese government directly when he told reporters: “My understanding is that the Chinese government, not unlike the Russian government, is not doing this themselves, but are protecting those who are doing it. And maybe even accommodating them being able to do it.”

Later, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was forced to clarify Biden’s statements at her daily press briefing, saying, “That was not the intention he was trying to project. He takes malicious cyber activity incredibly seriously,” and then added that the White House did not differentiate between Russia and China when it comes to cyber-attacks.

Indictment specifics

The US Department of Justice released details of their Indictment of the Chinese nationals, naming three of them as officers in the Hainan State Security Department (HSSD), a provincial arm of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

“These criminal charges once again highlight that China continues to use cyber-enabled attacks to steal what other countries make, in flagrant disregard of its bilateral and multilateral commitments,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “The breadth and duration of China’s hacking campaigns, including these efforts targeting a dozen countries across sectors ranging from healthcare and biomedical research to aviation and defence, remind us that no country or industry is safe. Today’s international condemnation shows that the world wants fair rules, where countries invest in innovation, not theft.”

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