China on Monday expressed outrage at formal claims from the U.S. and a group of allies hours earlier that it paid criminal groups to carry out cyber hacks, including ransomware attacks, and that it perpetrated the Microsoft email system breach earlier this year.
Beijing called the claims “a huge lie,” “slander” and “ridiculous,” and it threatened devastating consequences if Washington proceeds with similar rhetoric or considers punitive action, according to a post in China’s English-language Global Times, considered a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.
“Such a practice cannot be carried out in China’s system, and it is completely inexplicable from the perspective of motivation,” according to the article. “If the US takes aggressive measures, carries out national-level cyber attacks on China, or imposes so-called sanctions on China, we will retaliate.”
China’s rhetoric came after several U.S. agencies along with a group of allies, including all NATO members, issued a series of statements Monday morning claiming China was behind the massive hack on the Microsoft Exchange email server unveiled this past spring and that it worked with criminal hackers to carry out ransomware and other illegal cyber operations that targeted victims – including those in the U.S. – with demands for millions of dollars.
The statements represented an unprecedented act to curb China’s reported behavior, including the first time NATO involved itself as such. But in some ways, the comments were most notable for what they didn’t do. Specifically, the statements themselves and officials speaking privately to explain them would not offer any details about the ransomware attacks, including whether they were previously revealed publicly. They also did not specify any punitive measures the U.S. or its allies plan to take in response.
“We’re not ruling out further actions to hold the PRC accountable,” a senior administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity said Sunday night, referring to the People’s Republic of China, the country’s official name. And, with a candid assessment, the official added, “We’re also aware that no one action can change the PRC’s behavior, and neither can one country acting on its own.”
The Week in Cartoons: July 19-23
“So we really focused initially on bringing other countries along with us. And this is really an unprecedented group of allies and partners holding China accountable,” the official said.
The Biden administration’s approach to combat China comes as the U.S. transitions away from two decades of war in the Middle East to instead focus on what it considers “near peer competitors,” namely Russia and China. American officials have appeared much more comfortable calling out Russian actions in recent years, and many privately believe that intelligence operatives in Moscow routinely farm out work to criminal syndicates – or turn a so-called blind eye to their work undermining Western interests.
Monday’s actions, however, appear to have enraged Beijing, which questioned the fundamental premise of the U.S. claims.
“What is the motive and benefit for China to launch large-scale cyber-attacks against the U.S. and severely hit China-US relations as the US has accused? Which piece of information or economic benefit from the US is more important than China’s national reputation?” according to Monday’s post.
It added that the U.S. claims China is risking its ability to conduct international commerce so that hackers-for-hire can pursue personal profit, concluding, “it is totally unthinkable in socialist China.”
In addition to the pledge to retaliate if the U.S. issues sanctions or other forms of punishment, Beijing also warns against any continuation of this line of thinking in Washington.
“The vicious accusations made by Washington have almost destroyed any trust between China and the US in the field of cyberspace,” according to the article. “Their mutual suspicion is bound to significantly increase. There will be a higher probability that both sides could misjudge that the other side is launching cyber attacks.”
“Washington must bear responsibility for this scenario,” the article concluded. “US allies which follow the US won’t benefit either.”