The State Department is warning US companies to be on guard against a new type of malware that it says a Chinese state-sponsored hacking group has been trying to insert into critical infrastructure computer systems across the United States. , even in Guam.
The presence of the suspicious computer code was announced Wednesday by Microsoft in a warning it issued to private sector users of its software. Guam is the location of a critical US Navy base that would respond to China if it attacked Taiwan.
The National Security Agency also issued an alert to power companies, nuclear power plants, water systems, railways and other key sectors that could be vulnerable.
“The US intelligence community assesses that China is almost certainly capable of launching cyberattacks that can disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States,” the State Department spokesman told reporters on Thursday. , Matt Miller. “It is vital that defenders of the government network in the public remain vigilant.”
The news comes as US and Chinese officials are holding their first cabinet-level meetings in Washington during the Biden administration, with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo meeting her counterpart, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao. US officials said the two officials had “candid and substantive discussions” on Thursday and that Raimondo “expressed her concern” over recent government actions against US companies operating in China.
Also scheduled to meet Wang was US Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Both will also attend an APEC meeting in Detroit on Friday and Saturday along with ministers from other Asia-Pacific countries.
Asked if the cyberattack could affect economic talks, State Department spokesman Miller said: “We intend to use our discussions with the Chinese government to push areas where we have concerns.”
Before leaving the G-7 Summit in Japan on Sunday, President Joe Biden expressed optimism that the United States and China will soon be able to improve relations between the countries. Tensions rose after the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon in early February off the coast of South Carolina after it crossed the US from Montana into the Atlantic.
China has maintained that it was a weather balloon blown off course, repeating that claim more recently in meetings National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang ago. two weeks in Vienna, Austria. China had earlier halted regular army-to-army communications with the Pentagon to protest then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan last September.
A senior Biden administration official told NBC News the two meetings with Chinese officials in Washington could reinforce President Biden’s push for a diplomatic thaw between the two countries. The official suggested that a trip to China by Secretary of State Blinken that was canceled after the balloon was shot down could be rescheduled for August, as well as visits by Treasury Secretary Yellen, Commerce Secretary Raimondo and climate envoy John Kerry.
But China’s Foreign Ministry reacted harshly to the hacking allegation on Thursday, accusing the United States of working with its allies to launch a coordinated disinformation campaign.
“We became aware of this extremely unprofessional report, a patchwork with a broken chain of evidence,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said. “We also noted that the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the cybersecurity agencies of the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand issued similar reports almost simultaneously.”
Another negative signal came when China’s newly appointed ambassador to the US, Xie Feng, arrived in the US on Tuesday, saying, “the relationship is facing serious difficulties and challenges.”
On Thursday, Ambassador Feng met with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland at the State Department. Nuland tweeted a photo of herself shaking hands with the new Chinese envoy and tried to strike an optimistic note about easing tensions, writing: “Open dialogue is critical to managing our relationship.”