IT security: Hackers attack Microsoft

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Microsoft suspects a well-organized state attack by computer hackers behind one of the most serious attacks on its technical systems to date. As the world’s largest software provider announced at the turn of the year, so-called source codes are also said to have been targeted in the attacks. These codes are in fact the foundation of all computer programs. Hence, many of them are top secret and well protected. No wonder: unauthorized access could have catastrophic consequences.

The attacks took place before Christmas, but could only now be analyzed in detail. However, Microsoft did not disclose which of its secret codes attacked the hackers and which user programs were particularly affected by these attacks. A loss of data or sabotage of data services has not yet been determined, the company said. The hackers also did not intervene in the company’s production system, so no code modifications have been detected so far.

Apparently, the attackers only wanted to look around the company’s systems to show Microsoft that they are able to penetrate into the inner sanctum of the software giant. The suspicion that these are state-organized hackers has not yet been substantiated. Due to the sophisticated nature of the attacks, IT specialists and security authorities in America have been suspecting for months that hackers from Russia or North Korea are making global networks insecure, penetrating third-party computers and paralyzing the systems of large companies. Not only is the number of attacks on computer systems increasing around the world, but the quality of these attacks is also increasing.

Attack on the Sanctum

The systems of the German Software AG were hit in October, and in November the technical systems of several large Japanese companies were targeted by hackers. Now it was Microsoft’s turn. The company is one of the most important IT groups in the world. More than 75 percent of all laptop and personal computers run with the Windows operating system. In addition, Microsoft is also one of the largest providers of application software for home and office use. The company also provides massive amounts of data services in data centers over the Internet. In this so-called cloud computing, Microsoft is one of the pioneering providers alongside Amazon and Google. The attacks on the company’s technical systems are therefore particularly worrying.

“We saw unusual activity on a small number of internal accounts. And during the investigation, we noticed that an account was being used to view source code, ”#Microsoft said in a post on one of its blogs on the Internet. This not only requires sophisticated technology on the part of the attacker, but also good and tight organization.

Source codes are the basis of all programs and operating systems. They describe software formally in such a way that a computer can automatically translate it into machine language. If an error occurs here, it can not only paralyze vital infrastructures such as that of electricity and water suppliers, but also disable the digital control systems of companies, nuclear power plants and even nuclear weapons. Targeted manipulation could cause more than just billions in damage.

One of the most recent hacking targets: The Treasury Department in Washington


One of the most recent hacking targets: The Treasury Department in Washington
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Image: AFP

The most recent attacks on Microsoft systems were discovered during extensive investigations. For weeks, specialists have been analyzing severe attacks on computers by American authorities, ministries and organizations of all kinds. Since the outbreak of the Corona crisis, the United States has been massively attacked by hackers who have not yet been identified. Many of these agencies and companies use Microsoft programs. Since autumn the attacks have been increasing in severity and penetration. At the end of the year they appeared with a hitherto unprecedented severity. The attackers always proceed according to a more or less identical pattern. First you bring the computers of large companies or organizations under your control. Then they smuggle their software weapons onto these strange computers and finally carry out their accesses and attacks from this well-camouflaged cover.

The Americans have not yet quantified the damage caused by these attacks. But never before have there been so many and such severe attacks as in 2020. The total damage from hacker attacks is estimated at almost one thousand billion euros. This has put all security authorities and IT security companies around the world on alert. In early December, Microsoft President Brad Smith said the latest attacks were like a “moment of reckoning”. He warned of a catastrophe, because the attacks are apparently more than just the now common digital espionage on the Internet.

Shortly afterwards, a vulnerability in the Orion network management software offered by Solarwinds was exploited to attack large IT groups. These attacks are described by analysts as very professional, well organized and technically at a high level. Therefore, it can hardly be assumed that a small group of hackers is responsible.



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