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12/18/2020
10:40 AM
Jai Vijayan
Jai Vijayan
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5 Key Takeaways From the SolarWinds Breach

New details continue to emerge each day, and there may be many more lessons to learn from what could be among the largest cyberattacks ever.
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Anxiety over the recent SolarWinds and US government cyberattack went up a notch Thursday when the DHS' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned the advanced persistent group behind the incident might be using multiple tactics to gain initial access into target networks.

It was first widely thought that the likely Russia-backed threat actor was distributing malware to thousands of organizations worldwide by hiding it in legitimate updates to SolarWinds' Orion network management software. On Thursday, CISA said its analysis showed attackers may have also used another initial vector: a multifactor authentication bypass, done by accessing the secret key from the Outlook Web App (OWA) server.

CISA pointed to an alert that Volexity issued earlier in the week, in which the security vendor noted this MFA bypass tactic was used in another attack involving the same intruder responsible for the SolarWinds campaign. 

News of at least one additional attack vector, and likely more, came as organizations and the industry as a whole struggled to come to terms with what is arguably among the most significant cyber incidents in recent years. The attackers who breached SolarWinds used the company's software updates — and now, according to CISA, other methods — to install a backdoor called SUNBURST on systems belonging to governments, defense and military entities, and numerous private sector companies.

Victims of the campaign are thought to include the US Treasury Department, Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department, State Department, entities from all five branches of the US military, and several Fortune 500 companies. There were reports Thursday that the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Energy Department had also been breached in the campaign.

The breathtaking scope of this incident and remarkable stealth with which it was executed have sparked considerable worry about the level of access the attackers may still have on target networks.

With details around the attack still emerging, it is far too early to say with certainty what organizations should learn from the whole incident. Read on to learn five immediate issues the attacks have highlighted so far.

 

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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