China-Based Hackers Accessed 60K U.S. State Dept Emails In Microsoft Breach, Senate Staffer Says
Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of U.S. State Department emails were stolen by a group of China-based hackers who breached Microsoft’s email platform earlier this year, according to a Senate staffer.

The anonymous staffer, who works for Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO), told Reuters that State Department IT officials briefed the U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that 60,000 emails were stolen from ten different accounts — all directly working on East Asia and the Pacific.

In June, Chinese Communist Party-affiliated hackers subverted Microsoft’s system, giving them access to multiple U.S. agencies that deal with China ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing.

Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, reportedly called the accusation “disinformation” to distract from the U.S. committing cyber espionage against China.

“No matter which agency issued this information, it will never change the fact that the United States is the world’s largest hacker empire conducting the most cyber theft,” Wenbin said, according to The Associated Press.

News of the hacking first became public in July, prompting the U.S. agencies to take immediate action to counter China’s brazen and frequent acts of cyber-espionage on critical infrastructure to acquire sensitive information.

The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and other senior officials at the State Department were victims of a Chinese hacking campaign that gained access to email accounts from roughly two dozen organizations that began on May 15 and went undetected until June 16.

Microsoft disclosed the hack in a blog post, blaming the breach on a state-backed, espionage-focused Chinese hacking group “known to target government agencies in Western Europe” known as Storm-0558. The group had begun accessing email accounts in May, affecting about 25 organizations, including government agencies and other consumer accounts likely associated with the agencies.


Schmitt told Reuters in a statement shared by the staffer following the briefing on Wednesday that the federal government should “take a hard look” at relying on a single IT vendor as “a potential weak point.”

“We need to harden our defenses against these types of cyberattacks and intrusions in the future,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt joined over a dozen other senators earlier this year, sending a bipartisan letter to State Department Chief Information Officer Kelly Fletcher to determine the extent of the hacker’s breach of the unclassified email server preceding Blinken’s trip to China.

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency officials warned in a joint statement with international and domestic intelligence services that China poses a risk to American intellectual property.

“For years, China has conducted aggressive cyber operations to steal intellectual property and sensitive data from organizations around the globe,” CISA Director Jen Easterly said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon released a new cyber strategy report warning that China and Russia are prepared to launch destructive cyber attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure to “sow chaos and hinder military mobilization” in the event of war breaking out.

The Chinese Communist Party sees superiority in cyberspace as core to its theories of victory, the report reads, adding that it has engaged in espionage and theft that compromised key defense networks and broader U.S. critical infrastructure.

Microsoft reportedly said earlier this year that state-backed Chinese hackers were targeting U.S. critical infrastructure to potentially disrupt communications between the U.S. and Asia during future crises.

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