UK blames China for Microsoft Exchange Server attack

Laptop computer displaying logo of Microsoft Exchange
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The UK government has accused China of being behind the Microsoft Exchange Server attack that is estimated to have affected more than a quarter of a million servers worldwide, of which 7,000 were based in the UK.

First reported in early March, the attack was found to have been led by state-backed hackers, specifically the Chinese-based Hafnium and at least 10 other hacking groups.

The UK government has now formally accused the Chinese Ministry of State Security of being behind the attack, claiming it ordered Hafnium, APT31, and APT40, also known as Leviathan, to orchestrate it.

It, along with counterparts in Europe and the US, also accused the Chinese government of ignoring “repeated calls to end its reckless campaign, instead allowing its state-backed actors to increase the scale of their attacks and act recklessly when caught” and urged it “to take responsibility for its actions and respect the democratic institutions, personal data and commercial interests of those with whom it seeks to partner”.

This includes reaffirming its 2015 commitment to “not to conduct or support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property of trade secrets”.

Commenting on the announcement, foreign secretary Dominic Raab described the attack as “a reckless but familiar pattern of behaviour”.


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“The Chinese government must end this systematic cyber sabotage and can expect to be held account [sic] if it does not,” he said.

The EU joined the UK in condemning the Chinese government for the Exchange attack, stating that APT31 and APT40’s “irresponsible and harmful behaviour” had affected its “economy, security, democracy and society at large”.

“The EU and its member states strongly denounce these malicious cyber activities, which are undertaken in contradiction with the norms of responsible state behaviour as endorsed by all UN member states. We continue to urge the Chinese authorities to adhere to these norms and not allow its territory to be used for malicious cyber activities, and take all appropriate measures and reasonably available and feasible steps to detect, investigate and address the situation,” the EU Council said.

It also stated that it would “continue to enhance our cooperation, including with international partners and other public and private stakeholders, through increased exchange of information and continued diplomatic engagement, by strengthening cyber resilience and incident handling cooperation, as well as through joint efforts to improve the overall security of software and their supply chains”.

Sabina Weston

Having only graduated from City University in 2019, Sabina has already demonstrated her abilities as a keen writer and effective journalist. Currently a content writer for Drapers, Sabina spent a number of years writing for ITPro, specialising in networking and telecommunications, as well as charting the efforts of technology companies to improve their inclusion and diversity strategies, a topic close to her heart.

Sabina has also held a number of editorial roles at Harper's Bazaar, Cube Collective, and HighClouds.