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US Government Review: Microsoft Blamed for Chinese Hacker Breach

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US Government Review: Microsoft Blamed for Chinese Hacker Breach
03 Apr 2024
3 min read

News Synopsis

Chinese hackers breached Microsoft's network and accessed email accounts of senior US officials in a significant cyberattack.

The incident occurred last year, causing concerns within the US government and cybersecurity community.

US Cyber Safety Review Board (CSRB) Report:

  • The CSRB, a group of government and private cybersecurity experts led by the Department of Homeland Security, released a scathing report on the incident.
  • The report concluded that Microsoft committed a "cascade" of "avoidable errors" that allowed the breach to occur.

Microsoft's Failure to Protect Cryptographic Key:

  • Microsoft was faulted for not adequately protecting a sensitive cryptographic key, which enabled hackers to remotely access Outlook accounts by forging credentials.
  • The company's security culture was deemed inadequate and in need of an overhaul due to its centrality in the technology ecosystem.

Impact of the Hack:

  • The breach gave Chinese operatives access to the unclassified email accounts of senior US diplomats, including US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns.
  • Approximately 60,000 emails from the State Department alone were downloaded by the hackers, raising concerns about the security of sensitive information.

Response from Microsoft and US Government:

  • Microsoft announced plans to bolster its security practices following the incident and scrutiny from US lawmakers.
  • The company mobilized its engineering teams to identify and mitigate legacy infrastructure, improve processes, and enforce security benchmarks.
  • The US government faces a decision point regarding cybersecurity with its IT service providers, emphasizing the need for better security measures.

Ongoing Cybersecurity Challenges:

  • The incident is part of a series of cyber-espionage campaigns tied to China and Russia, targeting US national security interests.
  • Russian hackers also infiltrated software made by US firm SolarWinds in a similar attack in 2020, highlighting ongoing cybersecurity challenges.

Call for Action:

Cory Simpson, CEO of the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology, emphasized the importance of using the CSRB report as a call to action for meaningful change in the relationship between the US government and Microsoft.

There is a need for improved cybersecurity measures and collaboration between the government and technology companies to mitigate future threats.

Microsoft's Commitment to Improvement:

Microsoft expressed appreciation for the CSRB's investigation and stated its commitment to implementing more robust security measures.

The company will review the board's recommendations to further enhance its cybersecurity practices and protect its users from cyber threats.