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A screen displaying Microsoft's logo in Hong Kong in February 2021. Photo: Chukrut Budrul/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

At least 30,000 U.S. victims — including small businesses and local governments — have been hacked by a cyber espionage unit backed by the Chinese government, Krebs on Security reports.

What's happening: Hackers focused on stealing emails from victim organizations by exploiting flaws in the Microsoft Exchange Server, widely used by large companies and organizations.

Context: Since January, Chinese-backed hackers have used four flaws in Microsoft's software to gain control of the email servers of organizations around the world.

  • Microsoft released emergency security updates for the software on March 2, but the Chinese group has quickly increased attacks on unpatched Exchange servers since the release of the update.
  • Among the U.S. victims are "banks, credit unions, non-profits, telecommunications providers, public utilities and police, fire and rescue units," according to Krebs on Security, which reviewed a list of victims.

The big picture: The attack follows the major SolarWinds breach by Russian-backed hackers that became public in December 2020 and will likely compound pressure on the government and private sector to strengthen cybersecurity measures.

  • The new breach is unrelated to SolarWinds, but it also "may well end up far eclipsing the damage done by the SolarWinds intruder," according to Krebs.

What they're saying: The Biden administration has warned victims of the attack over the last few days.

  • Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said Friday that the Microsoft breach "is a significant vulnerability that could have far-reaching impacts."
  • National Security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a tweet on Thursday that the government is "closely tracking Microsoft’s emergency patch for previously unknown vulnerabilities in Exchange Server software and reports of potential compromises of U.S. think tanks and defense industrial base entities."

Go deeper

White House nominates Rick Spinrad as NOAA leader

In this NOAA GOES-East satellite handout image, Hurricane Dorian, a Cat. 4 storm, moves slowly past Grand Bahama Island on September 2, 2019. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)

The White House on Thursday evening nominated Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Why it matters: Filling the NOAA slot would complete the Biden administration's leadership on the climate and environment team. The agency, located within the Commerce Department, houses the National Weather Service and conducts much of the nation's climate science research.

2 hours ago - World

Israeli officials will object to restoration of Iran deal in D.C. visit

Photo: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the delegation traveling to Washington, D.C. next week for strategic talks on Iran to stress their objection to a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal and to refuse to discuss its contents, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: That position is similar to the one Israel took in the year before the 2015 nuclear deal was announced, which led to a rift between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. History could now repeat itself.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases aren't budging — even after vaccinations doubled— Health care workers feel stress, burnout more than a year into the pandemic — Handful of "breakthrough" COVID cases occurred in nursing homes, CDC says.
  2. Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson's vaccine production problems look even bigger — All U.S. adults now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine.
  3. Political: Watchdog says agency infighting increased health and safety risks at start of pandemic.
  4. World: EU regulator: Benefits of J&J vaccine outweigh risk of rare blood clots.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.