Speaking at a computer security conference four years ago, President Brad Smith of Microsoft Corp, warned of the darker turn in digital fraud and sabotage.
Speaking at a computer security conference four years ago, President Brad Smith of Microsoft Corp, warned of the darker turn in digital fraud and sabotage. He said that nation-states have become highly violent and omnipresent hackers, targeting so many aspects of private and public life that “there appear little outside limits.”
Smith noted that Microsoft had institutionalized cyber warfare recognition through the creation of an internal Threat Intelligence Centre, using conduct analysis, computer education, forensics, and data to prove its goods and services in a bulletproof manner.
In order to counterattack this, he called for more public-private cooperation, pursued greater corporate accountability on hacks, and called on the governments to adopt a “Digital Geneva Convention” which would establish global limits in digital espionage and disruption.
Little of it went beyond the walls of Microsoft. And in congressional hearings, less than two weeks ago, Smith was again sounding several of the same alarms after the huge SolarWinds hack. Then, since destiny is revenge, Microsoft announced last week that it was at the core of an extensive hack created by China, which started January 3 but was discovered only recently.
In a brutal twist, the revelation by Microsoft and the attempt to correct the violation of email applications sold to companies motivated hackers to speed up their assaults until they were expelled. By Monday at least 60,000 victims were hacked, most of them SMEs and public companies including airports, local governments, police, jails, hospitals, and Covid 19 response teams. This is an astounding amount, but just a small percentage of those who experience a detrimental intrusion and loss of data.
Yes, it ought to have done better for Microsoft. Hackers found a loophole in the company’s ignored Exchange web-related product that allowed them to creep on tens of thousands of email servers. The remedies sent by Microsoft to clients are not disinfectants: they prevent new hackers from burglars, but criminals who have already created them can still bury themselves on the net. Victims will have to strip down their systems to see what malware exists, an elaborate process that can overwhelm smaller companies.
It’s ugly. It’s ugly. But because of its size, Microsoft is an unavoidable goal. Contrary to most of its big peers, it is also willing to share information with the public that can create partnerships to fight government-sponsored hackers more effectively.
And the risky – and bold – move has been taken to repeatedly recognize countries such as Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China that, even when other large corporations are mother, it believes are orchestrating attacks. For example, Amazon.com Inc. refused to testify at the SolarWinds hearing although hackers used the servers of its cloud computing operations to perform digital assaults. (China denied that the Microsoft hack is behind it.)
While the vast majority of nation-states hacks still rely on simplistic phishing schemes and password spraying for networks, SolarWinds and Microsoft attacks were uniquely automated, stubborn, and sophisticated – which may indicate we have entered an age of more powerful attacks, which will make it difficult for any business and public institution to fight independently.
Please note that SolarWind (which entered nine federal agencies and at least 100 corporations worldwide) became aware of the national security agency itself only when a private corporation discovered it a few months after it started to operate.
The hackers who zapped it, Microsoft said, were part of a Chinese-sponsored consortium called “Hafnium.” Such hackers have allegedly attacked researchers for infectious diseases, lawyers, higher education, defense contractors, think tanks, and NGOs. While Hafnium has funding from the Chinese government, it operates servers, according to Microsoft, that it leases in the US.
BlackBerry Ltd., a software firm, said in its “2021 Threat Report” that independent cybercriminals have been so outstanding that nation-states are exploiting hacking operations.
Subcontracting digital assaults gives countries negligence and more muscle, along with the reasons why governments like the U.S. employ private military contractors in war zones to do some of their dirty work.
It’s not just the big guys that hackers enjoy. According to BlackBerry, they could include “linked vehicles.” You know, your driving car can view Google Maps or Apple Maps on the dashboard, accept telephone calls from your mobile provider, or download music from your Spotify account. According to BlackBerry, there are 280 million on-road cars currently linked to the Internet.
However, it was the large-scale attacks that had already taken place that had long since stronger counter-measures. Consider the 2015 Saudi Aramco hack which struck some 35,000 computers and threatened to derail the global oil market and the 2017 hack of Ukraine’s digital infrastructure which has remained undisturbed in global information systems and maritime industries.
Backing this kind of instability calls for strong federal leadership. The Biden administration made cybersecurity a priority and vowed a vigorous response to Russia’s launch of the SolarWinds hack. Congress, led by representatives such as Senator Mark Warner, considers legislation requiring businesses to take several of Microsoft’s proposed corrective steps.
Analysts have consistently stated that companies and governments must be more cautious and sophisticated in the safety and response of networks. Although conventional protections such as firewalls, air gaps, encryption, and network surveillance are important, experts say companies and government companies should implement zero-trust policies that require careful authentication of all users of network services.
This means that users must be told – and able to implement multi-factor authentication themselves (like the separate digital keys everyone hates to use when they login to their computers, or temporary codes sent to mobile devices). In the assumption that almost every hack is stalled if security hygiene is enhanced, some businesses intend to switch from passwords completely in favor of other types of identification, including biometrics. In the meantime, digital warfare is raging and will not end soon.
The opinion of the Editorial Board or Bloomberg LP and its owners do not necessarily reflect in this column.
Microsoft Hack reveals how the cyberwar can be lost and won