Chinese cyberspies, exploiting a fundamental gap in Microsoft’s cloud, hacked email accounts at the Commerce and State departments, including that of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, whose agency has imposed stiff export controls on Chinese technologies that Beijing has denounced as a malicious attempt to suppress its companies. Raimondo is the only known Cabinet-level official to have an account compromised in the targeted cyberespionage campaign, reports the Washington Post. The breaches have been mitigated, officials said, but an FBI investigation continues. The Microsoft vulnerability was discovered last month by the State Department. Also targeted were the email accounts of a congressional staffer, a U.S. human rights advocate and U.S. think tanks.
State and Commerce were the only two executive branch agencies known to be breached. The hackers, looking for information useful to the Chinese government, had access to the email accounts for about a month before the issue was discovered and access cut off, said officials. The intrusion was discovered around the time of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing. A senior FBI official said that no classified information was taken and that there was no evidence that the hackers got anywhere except inboxes. He said the government was not yet attributing the attack to any country or group but would seek to “impose costs” on the adversary. A senior Department of Homeland Security official said that nine U.S. organizations were victimized, with a small number of email accounts compromised at each. Microsoft said a total of about 25 organizations worldwide were hacked.