U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) shakes hands with Chinese Director of the Office of the Central Commission on Foreign Affairs Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing June 19, 2023. (Photo by Leah MILLIS/POOL/AFP) (Photo by LEAH MILLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Leah Millis | Afp | Getty Images
China-related hackers hacked the email account of US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns as part of a recent targeted intelligence campaign, NBC News confirmed.
The hackers also accessed the email account of Daniel Kritenbrink, deputy secretary of state for East Asia, who recently traveled to China with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, NBC said, citing two US officials familiar with the matter.
CNBC has reached out to the Chinese Foreign Ministry for comment but has yet to receive a response.
The attack was limited to the diplomats’ unclassified email accounts, NBC said, adding that the email account of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was also accessed in the breach, as previously reported.
The news, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, further exacerbates the impact on the US of the alleged Chinese hack first exposed last week.
Microsoft announced late Tuesday that it had found China-based hackers had hacked email accounts of about 25 organizations, including some US government agencies, in a major breach.
The compromise was “mitigated” by Microsoft’s cybersecurity teams after it was first reported to the company in mid-June 2023, Microsoft said in two blog posts on the incidents. The hackers had been active in government systems since at least May, the company said.
US warns China
Blinken said he raised the issue of Chinese hacking when he met China’s top diplomat Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional meeting in Jakarta last week.
The US Secretary of State noted that he made it clear to Wang that Washington will ensure the hackers are held accountable for alleged violations of US government agencies.
“First, this is something the State Department actually discovered last month, and we took immediate action to protect our systems and to report the incident — in this case, we notified a company, Microsoft, of the incident,” Blinken said at a news conference.
“I cannot go into further details about our response, and more importantly, this incident is still under investigation,” he added.
Still, Blinken said that, more generally, “we have always made it clear to China and other countries that any action aimed at the US government or US companies and American citizens is of great concern to us, and we will take appropriate action in response.”
The minister’s last meeting with Wang came less than a month after Blinken made a rare trip to Beijing under the Biden administration.
The aim of the visit was to calm relations between the world’s two largest economies amid escalating tensions.
Security experts argue that the incidents demonstrate an acceleration of Beijing’s digital spying capabilities.
“Tactics used by Chinese cyberespionage operators have steadily evolved over the past decade, becoming increasingly agile, stealthy and complex to reconcile,” researchers at cybersecurity firm Mandiant wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.
— CNBC’s Rohan Goswami contributed to this report.