Thousands of Microsoft Customers May Have Been Victims of Hack Tied to China

Microsoft said that businesses and government agencies using the Microsoft email service in the United States have been compromised in an aggressive hacking campaign that was likely sponsored by the Chinese government.

The number of victims is estimated to be in the thousands and may increase, some security experts believe, as investigations into the breach continue. As of January, hackers secretly attacked several targets SoundThe cybercity firm that discovered the hack, but their efforts increased in recent weeks as Microsoft went on to repair the vulnerabilities exploited in the attack.

US Government Cyber ​​Security Agency released Emergency alert On Wednesday, amid concerns that the hacking campaign had affected a large number of targets. The warning urged federal agencies to patch their systems immediately. On Friday, Cybercity reporter Brian Krebs reported that the attack was the least hit 30,000 Microsoft customers.

“We are concerned that there are a significant number of victims,” ​​White House press secretary, Jane Sasaki, said during a press briefing on Friday. “The attack can have far-reaching effects,” he said.

The attack is believed to be bigger than a December incursion, which Russian hackers are believed to have said Orion, Which affects at least 250 federal agencies and businesses. Last month, members of Congress questioned industry leaders as to why the Russian attacks had not taken place.

The latest attack in Exchange exploited holes, a mail and calendar server built by Microsoft and used by a wide range of customers, from small businesses to federal agencies. Hackers were able to install malware to steal emails and continue monitoring their targets, Microsoft Said in a blog post.

The campaign was revealed in January, it is said that Steven Adair, the founder of Volexity. Hackers quietly stole emails from several locations, exploiting bugs that allowed them to access the email server without a password.

“This is what we really believe to be stealth,” Mr. Adair said as the search set off a frantic investigation. “It made us start to separate everything.” Volexity reported its findings to Microsoft and the US government, he said.

But in late February, the attack escalated. Hackers began to weave together several vulnerabilities and attacked a wider group of victims. “We knew that much of what we had reported and seen used very stealthily was now being combined and chained with another exploit,” Mr Adair said. “It just kept getting worse and worse.”

According to a cyber security researcher, hackers targeted small businesses, local governments and large credit unions found on the Internet, targeting a number of victims who have studied the US investigation into the hack, which is about the case. Are not authorized to speak publicly. The defects used by hackers, known as zero days, were previously unknown to Microsoft.

“We are closely tracking Microsoft’s emergency patch,” said the report on possible agreements between Exchange Server and US think tank and Defense Industrial Base entities. Jake SullivanWhite House National Security Advisor.

“This is the real deal,” Christopher Krebs tweetedFormer US Cyber ​​Security and Infrastructure Agency former director. (Mr. Krebs is not related to a cyber security reporter who has disclosed the number of victims.)

Mr. Krebs said that companies and organizations using Microsoft’s Exchange program should assume they were hacked sometime between February 26 and March 3, and install the patch released last week by Microsoft Work quickly to do.

Microsoft, behind the hacking, said that a Chinese hacking group known as hafnium was “a group state sponsored and assessed to be out of China.”

Since the company exposed the attack, other hackers associated with Hafnium did not begin to exploit the vulnerabilities to target organizations that had not patched their systems. “Microsoft continues to see increased use of these vulnerabilities in attacks targeting unpublished systems by many malicious actors,” the company said.

Patching these systems is not a straightforward task. Email is difficult to maintain, even for security professionals, and many organizations lack the expertise to securely host their own servers. For years, Microsoft has been pushing these customers to move to the cloud, where Microsoft can manage security for them. Industry experts said security incidents could encourage customers to move to the cloud and become a financial boon for Microsoft.

Due to the wide scope of the attack, many exchange users are likely compromised, Mr. Adair said. “Even for those who patched it as fast as possible, there is a very high probability that they were already compromised.”

Nicole paroloth Contributed to reporting.

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