A startling new theory has emerged about the Microsoft Exchange hack: rather than routine information gathering, the hack has been used to fuel Chinese AI ambitions.
The revelations came as US-based news outlet NPR conducted a deep dive into the hack, having interviewed actors from across government and business.
Interestingly, experts found that the malware did not discriminate between what data it wanted to steal. Rather, it stole even routine data from small family-owned businesses right through to large corporations.
Speaking to the head of the US-based Cyber Readiness Institute Kiersten Todt, theft of routine documentation aren’t the actions of threat actors undertaking espionage and indicate something more insidious.
“Stealing information from small- and medium-size businesses out in the American heartland doesn't immediately suggest espionage. Instead, officials believe the Chinese gather this information to help them construct the informational mosaic they need to build world-class AI,” Dina Temple-Raston wrote in NPR.
The Microsoft Exchange hack is only one of a number of cyber incursions over recent years, many of which have stolen critical IP.
“Intelligence officials estimate that China has now stolen all the personal identifiable information of about 80 per cent of Americans, and it has a good start on collecting information on the remaining 20 per cent. And while the individual breaches and numbers are worrying, the real issue is how all this information can be woven together to build on itself,” Temple-Raston said.
The recent hypotheses come as the AI race between the US and China continues to heat up.
According to Defense One, a significant number of US firms even host their AI infrastructure in China prompting calls to domicile the data to protect it from infiltration.
“Nonetheless, according to the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University, 10 per cent of the collective AI research labs of Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft were housed in China by the end of 2020,” reporters wrote on Defense One.