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China-linked spies hack US ambassador to China: WSJ

Typing on a computer. (Dreamstime/TNS)
July 20, 2023

The email account of U.S. ambassador to China Nicholas Burns was recently breached by Chinese Communist Party-linked hackers as part of a spying operation that reportedly compromised hundreds of thousands of emails from the U.S. government, people familiar with the matter said.

According to The Wall Street Journal, in addition to the U.S. ambassador to China, the cybersecurity breach targeted Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia.

The report of Burns and Kritenbrink’s email accounts being accessed by CCP-linked hackers adds to a previous report that U.S. Secretary Gina Raimondo’s email account was accessed as part of the recent cybersecurity breach.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the hackers concentrated their efforts on a limited number of senior U.S. officials that are responsible for the management of the country’s relationship with China. Sources with knowledge of the cybersecurity breach have indicated that the estimated number of breached email accounts could increase in the coming days.

“For security reasons, we will not be sharing additional information on the nature and scope of this cybersecurity incident at this time,” a State Department spokesperson said. “The department continuously monitors and responds to activity of concern on our networks. Our investigation is ongoing, and we cannot provide further details at this time.”

Last week, Microsoft announced that Chinese intelligence hacked emails belonging to the U.S. State Department, along with about two dozen government agencies in both the United States and Western Europe.

“They did this by using forged authentication tokens to access user email using an acquired Microsoft account (MSA) consumer signing key,” Microsoft stated.

Microsoft informed the public last Tuesday that the company had “completed mitigation” for the Chinese-linked cyber hack “attack” on its customers. 

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