Beijing-Linked Hackers Gain Access to US Ambassador’s Email Account in China: Thousands of US Government Emails Compromised

Beijing-Linked Hackers Target US Ambassador’s Email Account

Beijing-linked hackers gained access to the US ambassador’s email account in China, Nicholas Burns, in an attack believed to have compromised at least hundreds of thousands of emails from US government officials, according to sources familiar with the matter.

According to the Wall Street Journal, two sources said Daniel Kreitenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, was also hacked in the cyber-espionage attack.

Diplomats Targeted in Alleged Spying Campaign

One of the officials also said he believes the two diplomats are the two most senior State Department officials targeted in the alleged spying campaign revealed last week.

The characteristics of the campaign are not fully known, although limited to unclassified emails. The mailboxes of Burns and Kreitenbrink could have allowed hackers to collect US planning information for a series of recent visits in China by senior Biden administration officials, as well as internal conversations about US policies toward its rival in a period of delicate diplomacy that was repeatedly put in discussion in recent months.

Burns and Kreitenbrink are the second and third top Biden administration officials identified in the news for hacking their emails.

US officials said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s email account was also hacked.

To this, a person with knowledge of the matter said that it appears Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s email account was not directly hacked during the hack process, and that the accounts of his advisory circle senior have not been violated.

Instead, the hackers appeared to be targeting a small number of senior officials responsible for managing US-China relations.

Diplomats and other State Department personnel are a lucrative target for foreign hackers in hostile countries like China, whose intelligence services are eager to learn about the Biden administration’s foreign policy insights and planning. CNN reported in earlier that the State Department was the first to discover the hacking campaign.

Sophisticated Attacks on the Rise

The breach also raises new alarms about Chinese hackers’ ability to orchestrate ever more sophisticated attacks and marks a fragile point in US-China relations.

China routinely denies hacking US organizations and has accused the US and its allies of targeting Chineseworks.

Chinese cyber spies have been stealing data from the US government and its allies for more than a decade, according to current and former intelligence officials.

While the outlines of the newly disclosed hack didn’t surprise cybersecurity officials or researchers, many of whom said it reflected China’s rapidly improving technical capabilities, it appeared to strike in more accurately individuals viewed as lucrative intelligence targets.

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