China-Based Espionage Gang Hack European Emails, Microsoft Says


A China-based hacking group intent on conducting espionage breached a series of email accounts linked to government agencies in Western Europe, according to Microsoft Corp.


Microsoft said the group that it identified as Storm-0558 was able to remain undetected for a month after gaining access to email data from around 25 organizations in mid-May. The software company only discovered the breach following an investigation in mid-June, after being alerted by customer reports about abnormal mail activity.


“We assess this adversary is focused on espionage, such as gaining access to email systems for intelligence collection,” Charlie Bell, an executive vice president at Microsoft, wrote in another post.


Storm-0558 carried out the attack by forging the authentication tokens needed to access user email accounts, he added. Microsoft has since notified the affected customers and completed the relevant mitigation efforts, the company said.


The disclosure comes not long after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. The two talked primarily about cooperation around Gates’ philanthropic efforts to prevent and eradicate communicable diseases.


Microsoft said it’s partnered with the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber defense agency to address the breach and would continue to investigate and monitor the China-based group. The company has added “substantial automated detections” for signs of system compromise to strengthen its defenses.


Asked about the findings, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing on Wednesday that the US National Security Council was the source of the hacking claims and accused the US of being the world’s largest source of hacking.


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