In the first joint action of its kind against China, coordinated statements were issued on Monday by the U.S., NATO, the EU, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, accusing China of carrying out a global cyber espionage campaign and many cyberattacks, including the one on the email servers of Microsoft Exchange, and calling on the regime in Beijing to act "responsibly" in cyberspace and stop its malicious behavior.
"Today, in coordination with our allies, the Biden administration is: Exposing the PRC’s use of criminal contract hackers to conduct unsanctioned cyber operations globally," the White House said in a long statement. "As detailed in public charging documents unsealed in October 2018 and July and September 2020, hackers with a history of working for the PRC Ministry of State Security (MSS) have engaged in ransomware attacks, cyber enabled extortion, crypto-jacking, and rank theft from victims around the world, all for financial gain."
In addition, the U.S. Justice Department on Monday announced an indictment against four workers at the MSS who prosecutors said were part of a multi-year campaign targeting foreign governments and entities in key fields such as maritime, aviation, defense, education and healthcare in at least 12 countries. The statement claimed that there are documents that prove that the accused tried to steal research on a vaccine for the Ebola virus as well as a great amount of intellectual property connected to public health.
In response, the Chinese diplomatic mission to the EU issued a statement saying "For years, a certain country in the West has abused its technological advantages for massive and indiscriminate eavesdropping across the world, even on its close allies. At the same time, it has boasted of being the guardian of cybersecurity, attempted to manipulate and push around its allies to form ‘small circles’ and repeatedly smeared and attacked other countries on cybersecurity issues. Such practices fully expose its double standards and hypocrisy."
Despite the harsh rhetoric, the U.S. has not said that it is planning to impose sanctions on the regime in Beijing, raising many eyebrows. In response to a question on the topic, President Biden said that experts in the U.S. are still studying the topic (of Microsoft Exchange) and that the investigation has yet to be completed. However, many in the U.S. compared the situation to the one with the Russian government, which was sanctioned in the past because of its alleged involvement in cybercrime.
At a daily press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was confronted with the economic statistics that each year the U.S. imports $435 billion worth of goods from China, but only $16 billion worth of goods from Russia. When asked whether there is a connection to sanctions, Psaki elegantly avoided giving a direct answer.