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Carlos Gimenez confronts Microsoft President Brad Smith on cybersecurity

Lawmakers question Brad Smith on national security and corporate responsibility while exploring their China operations

Lawmakers had a heated exchange with Microsoft President Brad Smith during a House committee hearing on Thursday, focusing sharply on the tech giant's cybersecurity practices and business operations in China.

The session was prompted by revelations from the Homeland Security Cyber Safety Review Board (CSRB), detailing a significant breach that compromised sensitive emails of high-ranking US officials hosted on Microsoft's Exchange Online platform.

Stay tuned to learn more.

Accountability amid security lapses

In his opening remarks, Smith acknowledged Microsoft's responsibility for the security lapses identified in the CSRB report. The breach, attributed to Chinese state-backed actors, exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft's systems, underscoring systemic weaknesses in cloud-based security protocols. Despite Smith's acceptance of accountability, tensions rose as lawmakers pressed him on the specifics of their role in detecting and mitigating such breaches.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) challenged Smith's assertion that it was not Microsoft's responsibility to initially identify the intrusion, emphasizing the reliance of federal agencies on their products and services. "It's not our job to find the culprits," Thompson pointedly remarked, "That's what we're paying you for."

Smith faced further scrutiny regarding Microsoft's internal security protocols and response mechanisms. Lawmakers questioned whether the company's procedures were robust enough to prevent similar breaches in the future, particularly in light of the escalating cyber threats posed by state-sponsored actors.


Microsoft's operations in China under scrutiny

Further scrutiny focused on Microsoft's business operations in China, where concerns about compliance with Chinese national security laws loomed large. Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) highlighted a 2017 Chinese law requiring companies to assist Chinese intelligence agencies when requested, questioning Smith about adherence to these regulations. Smith confirmed that Microsoft operates in China but asserted they do not comply with such laws, prompting skepticism from Gimenez regarding the feasibility of operating in China without compliance.

Gimenez pressed further, expressing skepticism about their operations in China and the feasibility of evading such laws while maintaining business operations. "I just don't trust what you're saying to me," Gimenez remarked, reflecting broader concerns among lawmakers about the implications of Microsoft's operations in geopolitically sensitive regions.

The exchange between lawmakers and Brad Smith underscored ongoing concerns over cybersecurity preparedness in both public and private sectors, particularly in light of increasingly sophisticated cyber threats originating from state-sponsored actors.

Smith defended Microsoft's approach, stating that the company operates in China with a small footprint relative to its global operations and has stringent policies in place to protect customer data and resist government interference. He highlighted that Microsoft has moved to relocate some of its personnel out of China to mitigate risks associated with local regulations.

As Microsoft navigates its dual role as a provider of critical infrastructure to US government agencies and a global tech player with operations in politically complex regions like China, the scrutiny from Capitol Hill signals a growing demand for transparency, accountability, and heightened security measures in the face of evolving cyber threats.

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