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China accuses US of launching cyberattacks, denies Microsoft Exchange hack

A top China spokesman known for making provocative remarks on Tuesday rejected accusations that Beijing was behind the recent hacking campaign against Microsoft Exchange servers and accused the US of being the world's biggest offender in cyberspace.

The comments, which were made in a press conference by Chinese foreign-ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, came one day after the US and a coalition of allies formally pinned the attack on hackers affiliated with China’s Ministry of State Security. The US Department of Justice also unsealed charges against four Chinese nationals for hacking companies, government agencies, and universities across the world on behalf of the MSS.

Although Beijing's diplomatic statements have been historically known for being evasive and jargon-filled, Zhao's provocative remarks can be seen as part of a trend of increasingly confrontational and inflammatory language used by foreign-ministry officials. Zhao specifically has received attention for promoting coronavirus conspiracy theories, including suggestions that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan.

In addition to the denial, Zhao accused the US of:

  • Being "the world’s largest source of cyber attacks."
  • Maintaining tens of thousands of malicious command-and-control servers outside of China to compromise millions of Chinese devices, citing a report from China's National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team (CERT).
  • Targeting Chinese aerospace, science and research institutions, oil industry, government agencies, and internet companies over the last 11 years, citing research published last year by Chinese cybersecurity firm Qihoo 360.
  • Wiretapping both its competitors and its allies, highlighting recent reports from Danish media that the country's secret service helped the US spy on European politicians.
  • Zhao said the attacks "have seriously undermined China's national security, and the security of China’s economy, critical infrastructure and citizens’ personal information."
  • Additionally, Zhao said the US has pressured NATO and other allies into forming a cyberspace military alliance, which "might spur [a] cyber arms race" and "undermine international peace and security."
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Adam Janofsky

Adam Janofsky is the founding editor-in-chief of The Record by Recorded Future. He previously was the cybersecurity and privacy reporter for Protocol, and prior to that covered cybersecurity, AI, and other emerging technology for The Wall Street Journal.