The Department of State has reportedly suffered a significant cyber breach, with 60,000 emails stolen by hackers believed to be from China. The breach was disclosed during a private staff briefing on Capitol Hill, where Chief Information Officer, Kelly Fletcher, revealed the extent of the hack.
Affecting ten staff members using Microsoft Outlook, the department’s email system, high-ranking officials such as Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo were also impacted.
While all the emails were unclassified, they contained “Sensitive but Unclassified” data such as diplomatic discussions and travel itineraries. Personal information, including at least ten Social Security numbers, was likely accessed by the hackers, exposing 25 individuals.
Interestingly, Raimondo’s emails, which belong to the Department of Commerce, were not part of the stolen 60,000, though the hacking attempt encompassed her department. Raimondo had previously criticized China for accessing her email during a visit there in August.
The breach was facilitated by the theft of a digital access token from a Microsoft software engineer. The majority of the affected department officials were part of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, which oversees China and its neighboring regions, while one was from the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, stated, “It’s clear that the PRC is steadily improving its cyber collection capabilities directed against the U.S. and our allies.” He stressed the importance of close cooperation between the U.S. government and the private sector in combating this threat.
However, it remains uncertain whether the hackers were acting under the orders of the Chinese government. Neither the Chinese government nor the Chinese Communist Party has been formally accused by the United States for the attack. The Department of State has yet to comment on the incident.