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Attack on Microsoft Clients: Case Study

Introduction

There was a new mass hacker attack, the features and scale of which may indicate the onset of a new era in the field of cyber security. The victims were mainly small and medium-sized businesses, as well as local governments using the popular business email software from Microsoft Corp. Even though the attack, as well as the weaknesses of the system that the hacker hit, were identified, some obstacles make it challenging to implement counter-measures.

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The number of victims is large even within each of the affected companies. For example, one firm that wished to remain anonymous dealt with fifty attacked users, and the total number of victims reached 60,000 (“Hackers Reach Thousands,” 2021). In particular, among the identified victims are banks, nursing homes, companies that provide electricity, and even an ice cream producer. Companies with vulnerable software and connected to the Internet directly are most at risk – large companies usually avoid such unsafe actions. This scale indicates the automation of the process in its last stages. Microsoft, as well as Huntress, a security firm, consider guilty the Hafnium hacker group, supported by the Chinese government.

Although Microsoft was able to find weaknesses that cheaters used and create updates to fix them, it may not remove intruders – this effort requires additional checks and actions. The attack on email services occurred just a few months after another significant hack from Russian hackers through the forgery of SolarWinds LLC programs (“Hackers Reach Thousands,” 2021). These crimes demonstrate the weakness of modern defense systems and the power of hacker groups. Events seriously concern software manufacturers, cyber security companies, and the government – they are all tired of fighting such sophisticated attacks.

So What?

The most serious problem that this incident and the attack SolarWinds are evidence that hackers are now able to automate processes. This feature increases the scale of damage thousands of times and endangers all business representatives and even the government. In addition to business, such a problem threatens national security, which brings confrontations between states to a new level. Companies and agencies engaged in protection from hacker cannot yet resist such strong attacks, leading to a global cyber security crisis.

Who Cares?

  • Business users of the software: hackers can steal crucial company data. Several reasons put small and medium-sized businesses in a special risk group. Both conventional and malicious software is developing fast, competing with each other. Large companies prefer to use their own servers, while smaller ones take little action to protect their data. Moreover, small businesses can open the way to significant thefts from large business companies – for example, stealing data from providers of certain services. The consequences of attacks and hacks are usually expensive for companies – in addition to losing reputation, systems that have been used need to be restored. The business plan also suffers, unique ideas can be stolen, and all these factors lead to severe financial losses.
  • Microsoft Corp. – for a company, such an attack is a blow to reputation – an event can reduce the appeal of their services and force users to look for alternatives. On the one hand, this security threat also challenges developers, stimulating to improve performance, but on the other hand, it can result in financial losses. Such a race with hackers, and the cyber security crisis, can also drain the company’s resources and de-motivate employees.
  • Cybersecurity agencies are getting a new challenge for their work. In this case, Microsoft used Volexity help to find vulnerabilities. Representatives of FireEye Inc., Milton Security Group Inc., and other experts also expressed their opinion on the issue in the article (“Hackers Reach Thousands,” 2021). All of them agree that this is a new scale of cyber threat. Perhaps for them, this event is the start of new developments and greater demand for their security services from users and companies.
  • Government – other governments’ support for hacker groups means a willingness to use such means to spy and steal classified information or employees’ files. Obtaining such data may be necessary to gain an advantage – in peacetime, it is likely not military but economic. The danger is that the attacks’ roots are difficult to find, it is challenging to track which data were stolen, and the states involved will necessarily deny participation.

What Can Be Done?

Cyber attacks indicate weaknesses in software, require reaction measures to strengthen protection and develop new programs. As noted, the recent large-scale attack affects many parties, particularly business companies, developers, security companies, and the government. The latter stakeholder develops its own agencies to protect against cybercrime and uses cyber security companies’ services. This paper further focuses on the business structures and actions they need to take.

Small and medium-sized businesses are usually effortless targets for hackers. Modern trends require their presence on the Internet in order to be in demand among consumers. Owners of such enterprises pay little attention to cybersecurity, as they believe that their activities are of little interest to fraud. Moreover, in small enterprises, a stricter budget allocation and services to improve cyber protection can be expensive for them. Schuler (2020) highlights several other reasons for the vulnerability of small businesses. The list includes the difficulties of switching to new technologies, constant updating, lack of financial resources, and the most crucial – staff negligence. Such neglect jeopardizes the safety of companies and their economic well-being.

The vulnerability’s leading causes point to areas that need to be improved to provide safety. Staff training to be attentive and distinguish fraud attempts is the cornerstone of small businesses’ security (Schuler, 2020). Miller (2020) also adds to possible security measures creating a system security plan, software updates, secure passwords, and the use of security agency services. Cyber threats should not be underestimated even by small and medium-sized businesses, since in some cases, hackers can even destroy them. Microsoft Corp. and cyber security companies, in turn, should focus on cleaning after damage. The update they have provided is undoubtedly essential and should therefore be shared with vulnerable software users. Then they need to focus on taking measures to counter automated processes that hackers use. Such a crisis requires serious work from the companies and their help to users.

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Conclusion

A mass attack on thousands of Microsoft Exchange Server users is an example of a new hacker attack type. A large number of victims in a short period indicates the use of automated processes. Such a feature means a new era for cyber security, which affects all parties – business users, providers, cyber security agencies, and even the government. Such attacks have severe consequences for victims – small and medium-sized businesses – theft of information affects all activities and incurs financial losses. To protect enterprises, it is necessary not to neglect precautions, train personnel, use proven software, update it, and, if necessary, seek its improvement from particular companies.

References

Hackers breach thousands of Microsoft customers around the world. (2021). Mint.

Miller, L. (2020). 5 ways to protect your company from cybercrime. Entrepreneur.

Schuler, Z. (2020). How small businesses can protect themselves from cyberattacks. Cisomag.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Attack on Microsoft Clients: Case Study." July 4, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/attack-on-microsoft-clients-case-study/.

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