What! Russian Hackers Infiltrate Microsoft

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Microsoft has fallen victim to a password spraying attack perpetrated by Midnight Blizzard a nation state sponsored hacking group .
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A group of Russian hackers, named Midnight Blizzard (Solarwinds hack), has infiltrated Microsoft as reported by the tech behemoth. Midnight Blizzard reportedly stole many lines of source code for various Microsoft products. What is source code? Source code is lines of text containing program instructions for applications. These lines of text are essentially a blueprint converted to language a computer can understand when you start the program. Source code exposure gives the hackers “a leg up” when trying to find exploits in the code that can be leveraged to inject malware or gain remote access.

The Breach: What Happened?

In January, Microsoft found out that these hackers managed to sneak into their systems. Almost like discovering someone had been secretly reading your diary and now knows all your secrets. These weren’t just any hackers; they are backed by a whole country (Russia), also called a nation state, and they have serious computer science skills. They were after Microsoft’s source code—the secret sauce that makes Microsoft’s software work.

How Did They Do It?

The hackers used a technique called a “password spray attack.” What is a password spraying? Password spraying is like trying a bunch of keys on a door lock until one works. Hackers will keep trying common passwords (e.g. passw0rd, 123456) on many different accounts until they found one that works. It’s kind of surprising, right? You’d think a big company like Microsoft would have better door locks, but one of their test accounts didn’t have a two-step verification, which is like locking your door knob but not your deadbolt. Two-step verification, also called MFA, uses a one time use code that must be provided after logging in with a username and password.

Once inside, they didn’t just look around; they took stuff—important stuff like the source code to some of Microsoft’s software. And because they also spied on the email accounts of some top Microsoft bosses, they learned a lot about Microsoft’s secrets and plans.

How is Microsoft Defending its Systems

Microsoft didn’t just sit back; they fought to protect their castle. They said they’ve put more money into making their security stronger, like adding better door locks, watchtowers (monitor system behaviors), and guards (enforced MFA) to make sure this doesn’t happen again. They also started working closely with other groups to be better prepared for these kinds of attacks. Plus, they’ve been reaching out to anyone who might be affected, warning their neighbors about the nation state hacking group and their tactics.

What This Means for Customers

For people who use Microsoft’s stuff, like you and me, this could be worrying. If hackers can get their hands on the source code, they might sneak into places they shouldn’t, like our emails, documents, and browsing habits. Although Microsoft says they have not found proof this has happened to their customers, but they’re still looking into the possibility of customer data exposure. If customers or their data has been impacted, Microsoft plans to reach out to those customers to help them implement better Microsoft two factor authentication among other security controls.

It’s also a wake-up call for everyone to be more careful with their online accounts; if your online accounts provide 2 factor or multi-factor authentication, enable it as soon as possible. Additionally, make sure your passwords are super strong and not something easy to guess. Essentially, you want to make sure you lock your doors with strong passwords and also enable your security alarm by setting up multi-factor authentication.

The Big Picture

This whole situation is a reminder that even big, powerful companies can have weaknesses, and there are always going to be people out there trying to find those weaknesses to take advantage. It shows how everything we do online is connected, and when one part gets attacked, it can affect many people. As customers, we rely on these big companies to keep our digital lives safe. For Microsoft, it’s a chance to learn from what happened and get even better at protecting customer data and the people who use it.

In the end, this story isn’t just about Microsoft and the Russian hackers who also infiltrated Solarwinds. It’s about all of us understanding the digital world we live in a little better, and how we can play our part in keeping it safe. Just like in any community, online or offline, it takes everyone working together to make sure the neighborhood stays safe.

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