Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

2/18/2021
06:10 PM
50%
50%

Microsoft Concludes Internal Investigation into Solorigate Breach

The software giant found no evidence that attackers gained extensive access to services or customer data.

Microsoft, which calls the SolarWinds supply chain attack a "moment of reckoning," declared on Thursday it had completed an internal investigation of its own compromised network. It advises companies to strengthen security by adopting a zero trust mindset and protecting privileged credentials.

While the breach, which Microsoft calls "Solorigate", allowed sophisticated attackers to view source code for some of its products, Microsoft stressed that its investigators concluded neither the company's services nor its software had been used to attack others.

The closing of this investigation comes less than two months after Microsoft revealed that attackers had viewed some of the source code for its products and services. In a separate statement on Feb. 18, the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) disclosed the attackers viewed specific source code repositories looking for passwords and development "secrets" used as keys to secure applications once compiled.

Microsoft's investigation found that only "a small number of [code] repositories" were accessed by the intruders, including a small subset of Azure, Intune, and Exchange components.

"The search terms used by the actor indicate the expected focus on attempting to find secrets," the MSRC states in its blog post, adding that company policy prohibits any passwords or code-signing secrets in code. Microsoft automates verification of this policy, but double-checked the code during incident response. "We have confirmed that the repositories complied and did not contain any live, production credentials," officials write.

Vasu Jakkal, corporate vice president for security, compliance, and identity at Microsoft, noted the fact that security companies and large software firms were clearly targeted by the attackers should worry the industry and customers.

Related Content:

7 Things We Know So Far About the SolarWinds Attacks

Special Report: Understanding Your Cyber Attackers

New From The Edge: Breach Etiquette: How to Mind Your Manners When It Matters

"Today, as we close our own internal investigation of the incident, we continue to see an urgent opportunity for defenders everywhere to unify and protect the world in a more concerted way," she writes. "We also see an opportunity for every company to adopt a Zero Trust plan to help defend against future attacks."

The speed with which Microsoft wrapped its investigation caused some security professionals to question the company's thoroughness. Incident responders are in the tough position of having to declare a negative — that attackers did not gain significant access, says Joe Slowik, senior threat researcher with network infrastructure firm DomainTools.

"It does seem like this didn't take very long for them to finish up, given the length of time compared to the potential level of access that the attackers were able to achieve in the victims' networks," he says. "Microsoft saying that [the attackers] didn't get access — full stop — seems very fast."

While acknowledging that Microsoft is in a better position to make such declarations, compared to most of the industry, Slowik questioned the wisdom in declaring the investigation over. 

Microsoft focused much of its conclusions on advising companies that two measures could make them more secure: Adopting a zero trust mindset and protecting the privileged accounts that attackers strive to compromise. While these have long been recommendations for IT security teams, especially as companies move to distributed workforces linked with cloud based services, Microsoft stressed that sophisticated attackers will target access and credentials. 

"The cybersecurity industry has long been aware that sophisticated and well-funded actors were theoretically capable of advanced techniques, patience, and operating below the radar, but this incident has proven that it isn't just theoretical," the MSRC writes in its conclusions. "For us, the attacks have reinforced two key learnings that we want to emphasize — embracing a zero trust mindset and protecting privileged credentials."

Industry professionals criticized Microsoft's touting of cloud services as self-serving but lauded the company's focus on adopting a zero trust architecture.

"The adoption of a zero trust architecture was something that had already been accelerating in light of the pandemic and the new normal of working from home," Oliver Tavakoli, chief technology officer at Vectra. "Microsoft points out that organizations should go one step further by adopting it as a 'mindset' [and] accept that all of the initial lines of defense can fail and that security controls need to be layered across all systems critical to an organization."

DomainTools' Slowik argued that companies should focus on gaining visibility into their trust relationships. While "zero trust" has become overused in cybersecurity firms' marketing, he says, the essence of the recommendations are valid.

"Zero trust is a problematic concept — more a buzzword than truly useful — but it does highlight a trend that adversaries are increasingly able and willing to abuse trust relationships," Slowik says. "The upshot for defenders and network owners is that we need to better at monitoring, defending, and controlling those trust relationships."

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Commentary
Ransomware Is Not the Problem
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  6/9/2021
Edge-DRsplash-11-edge-ask-the-experts
How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?
John Bock, Senior Research Scientist,  6/7/2021
News
New Ransomware Group Claiming Connection to REvil Gang Surfaces
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  6/10/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-20733
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
Improper authorization in handler for custom URL scheme vulnerability in ????????? (asken diet) for Android versions from v.3.0.0 to v.4.2.x allows a remote attacker to lead a user to access an arbitrary website via the vulnerable App.
CVE-2021-20734
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
Cross-site scripting vulnerability in Welcart e-Commerce versions prior to 2.2.4 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary script or HTML via unspecified vectors.
CVE-2021-20735
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
Cross-site scripting vulnerability in ETUNA EC-CUBE plugins (Delivery slip number plugin (3.0 series) 1.0.10 and earlier, Delivery slip number csv bulk registration plugin (3.0 series) 1.0.8 and earlier, and Delivery slip number mail plugin (3.0 series) 1.0.8 and earlier) allows remote attackers to ...
CVE-2021-20736
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
NoSQL injection vulnerability in GROWI versions prior to v4.2.20 allows a remote attacker to obtain and/or alter the information stored in the database via unspecified vectors.
CVE-2021-20737
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
Improper authentication vulnerability in GROWI versions prior to v4.2.20 allows a remote attacker to view the unauthorized pages without access privileges via unspecified vectors.