In early 2013, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter all reported being compromised by the same threat group, via a Java exploit on Mac endpoints. Until today, however, there were no indications that the intrusion at Microsoft included a compromise of its vulnerability database. According to a Reuters exclusive, five anonymous former employees now say that this bug repository was indeed compromised.
If attackers did access a database that could have included yet-unpatched critical vulnerabilities, it could have enabled the attackers to launch more effective, dangerous campaigns against other targets. A 2015 Mozilla breach that exposed 10 unpatched vulnerabilities, for example, resulted in an attack on Firefox users; Mozilla subsequently disclosed the attack.
However, Microsoft has not confirmed that the 2013 breach led to attacks on users of Microsoft products, nor have they confirmed the breach impacted the bug repository at all.
Today, a Microsoft spokesperson told Dark Reading in an emailed statement:
“In February 2013, we commented on the discovery of malware, similar to that found by other companies at the time, on a small number of computers including some in our Mac business unit. Our investigation found no evidence of information being stolen and used in subsequent attacks.”
In February 2013, in a Microsoft Technet blog, Matt Thomlinson, then general manager of Trusted Platform Security, wrote:
Consistent with our security response practices, we chose not to make a statement during the initial information gathering process. During our investigation, we found a small number of computers, including some in our Mac business unit, that were infected by malicious software using techniques similar to those documented by other organizations. We have no evidence of customer data being affected and our investigation is ongoing."
According to the Reuters report, the exposed bugs were patched within months and "Microsoft tightened up security after the breach, the former employees said, walling the [vulnerability] database off from the corporate network and requiring two authentications for access."
"It sounds like they responded to the breach in a reasonable fashion," says Chris Eng, vice president of research at application security company Veracode, "both in terms of prioritizing fixes and monitoring for real-world exploitation of the leaked vulnerability information."
[Chris Eng will be speaking about "Security, Application Development, and DevOps" at Dark Reading's upcoming INsecurity conference, Nov. 29-30 at the Gaylord National Harbor in Maryland.]
Yet, according to the Reuters report, some former employees feel that the company relies too heavily on automated crash reports to determine whether or not vulnerabilities have been used in sophisticated attacks.
Eng cautions against making comparisons between this event and the National Security Agency breach of exploit tools that led to the outbreak of WannaCry infections earlier this year.
"Comparing the theft of vulnerability reports to the theft of exploits (the NSA situation) is apples and oranges," says Eng. "Obtaining information on a given vulnerability is not the same as obtaining a reliable, working exploit. The attackers would have had to determine which of the bugs were actually security-related, then figure out which ones were exploitable, then develop exploits for them, each of which can take months."
Nevertheless, a database or bug tracking system "is as essential to protect as customer data,
says Chris Goettl, product manager at asset and patch management firm Ivanti. "If a system holds information that can put your customers at risk. as in this case, it would be one you would want to focus additional security controls and limit access to."
"Disclosure of data from a bug tracking system is a high concern," says Goettl. "With access to a bug system where developers may have deconstructed an issue and even proposed resolutions an attacker would gain considerable insight into how to exploit those systems or applications. Even more concerning is the possibility that a bug could be resolved in currently supported products at the time, older versions could have the same flaws and not have been slated for resolution because they were no longer being supported."
For more information, see Reuters.
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