White House: ‘We reserve the option to take additional action’ against China for cyber attacks

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration and global allies said Monday that China is believed to be behind the massive Microsoft cyber attack earlier this year and for other ransomware attacks on business, governments and more.

“We are actually elevating and taking steps to not only speak out publicly but certainly take action as it relates to problematic cyber activities from China,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

While the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia earlier this year over cyber attacks, the Biden administration has not announced any sanctions on China for now.

“We reserve the option to take additional action where warranted as well,” said Psaki. “This is not the conclusion of our efforts as it relates to cyber activities with China or Russia.”

The European Union released a statement condemning China, saying in part: “Today, the EU and its member states, together with partners, expose malicious cyber activities that significantly affected our economy, security, democracy and society at large. The EU and its member states assess these malicious cyber activities to have been undertaken from the territory of China.”

“The compromise and exploitation of the Microsoft Exchange server undermined the security and integrity of thousands of computers and networks worldwide, including in the member states and EU institutions. It allowed access to a significant number of hackers that have continued to exploit the compromise to date. This irresponsible and harmful behavior resulted in security risks and significant economic loss for our government institutions and private companies, and has shown significant spill-over and systemic effects for our security, economy and society at large,” the EU said.

Separately, the Justice Department also announced four Chinese nationals have been charged for hacking into computer systems for dozens of companies, universities, and governments in the U.S. and abroad between 2011 and 2018.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been looking into the rise in ransomware attacks over the last several months.

“No one is safe from these attacks, including us,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, during a June hearing.

“Inaction is simply not an option,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security of Governmental Affairs Committee.

We contacted members of the House and Senate panels tasked with looking into Homeland Security issues about China’s alleged role in the cyber attacks.

In a statement, Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee said: “As a nation, we are losing our strategic geographic advantage because of adversarial cyber actors. China’s Ministry of State Security has emerged as a sophisticated actor in cyberspace as they launch a global campaign of cyber intrusions and theft for their own economic and strategic purposes – the latest example being the widespread Microsoft email server hack in March. The only thing bad guys understand is strength. The Biden Administration has failed to hold Chinese cyber actors accountable for their acts of aggression by imposing costs to deter or disincentivize the CCP’s actions globally. The CCP is the greatest threat to U.S. interests and economic security for the next 50 years and it’s time the Biden Administration start treating them as such.”