Feds launch probe into China's US gov email hack

US lawmakers have opened up an investigation into the recent email hack of several federal agencies suspected to be carried out by a Beijing-backed hacker group as part of a broader cyber-espionage campaign.

The probe, launched by the US House of Representatives Oversight Committee Wednesday, will determine the extent, if any, of China’s suspected involvement in last month’s breach of the Commerce and State Department email systems.

Microsoft, who disclosed the breach in a July 12th blog post, revealed that a China-based threat actor – dubbed Storm-0558 – had allegedly gained access to hundreds of thousands of government emails from top US officials, as well as those from nearly two dozen other organizations.

The full extent of the breach is still not clear.

The email accounts of US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the US Ambassador to China, and the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, were all said to be compromised in the month-long attack, which began May 15th.

House Oversight Committee chair Rep. James Comer (R-KY) has asked the Commerce Secretary as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken for staff briefings by August 9th.

"We are also concerned that this attack on federal agencies, including the email account of a senior U.S. government official such as yourself, reflects a new level of skill and sophistication from China’s hackers," the Committee said in a letter to Secretary Raimondo.

Last week, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden wrote a letter calling on the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Justice Department (DoJ) to "take action" and hold Microsoft "responsible for its negligence" resulting in the breach.

The discovery of the suspected Chinese cyber-espionage campaign has added to the already high tensions between Beijing and Washington over a host of issues, from trade to Taiwan.

An earlier statement by the Chinese embassy in Washington DC warned against "groundless speculations and allegations."

In spite of the hack, Commerce Secretary Raimondo said she will still move forward with plans to visit China later this fall.

"We're planning the trip now, which doesn't mean that we excuse any kind of hacking or infringement on our security," Raimondo had told CNBC last month.

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