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Chinese gov’t hacks critical US telecommunications systems, Microsoft says

Typing on a computer. (Dreamstime/TNS)
May 24, 2023

A Chinese government hacking group installed a malicious computer code in telecommunications systems in Guam and other locations in the United States, according to Microsoft.

The Microsoft executive who oversees the company’s threat intelligence unit, Tom Burt, said Microsoft analysts discovered the mysterious code around the same time that the Biden administration recovered the Chinese spy balloon off the cost of South Carolina in February, according to The New York Times.

The invasive code was installed in secret through routers and other internet-connected consumer devices, the Times reported, making the hack difficult to detect.

Microsoft and the National Security Agency plan to publish the code – called a “web shell” – so corporations, manufacturers and other groups can remove it, according to the Times. A “web shell” allows a server to be accessed remotely.

The hacking group, known by Microsoft as “Volt Typhoon,” installed the code as part of an apparent Chinese Communist Party espionage effort targeting critical infrastructure, including communications, electric and gas utilities, as well as maritime operations and transportation.

News of the telecommunications hack comes after at least 50 U.S. senators were issued satellite phones to use during emergency situations, according to people familiar with the situation, CBS News reported.

The phones were distributed as part of a number of new security efforts from the Senate Sergeant at Arms and were offered to every senator. It is unclear which senators agreed to the take part in the new measure.

Last month, Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson told the Senate Appropriations Committee that satellite communication will “ensure a redundant and secure means of communication during a disruptive event,” adding that the phones will support security measures during an emergency that “takes out communications” in the United States.

This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.