Microsoft says suspected Russian hackers viewed source code

Microsoft acknowledged on Dec 31, 2020 that attackers who spearheaded a massive hack of government and private computer networks gained access to its internal ‘source code’, a key building block for its software. But the US tech giant said the attack, which top US officials have attributed to Russian-led hackers, were unable to compromise or modify any of its software. — AFP

Microsoft Corp said the suspected Russian hackers behind the stunning breach of numerous US government agencies also accessed the company’s internal source code, although no customer data or services were compromised.

“We detected unusual activity with a small number of internal accounts and upon review, we discovered one account had been used to view source code in a number of source code repositories,” Microsoft said Thursday in a blog post that updated its continuing investigation of the attack. “The account did not have permissions to modify any code or engineering systems and our investigation further confirmed no changes were made.”

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to say which source code the hackers viewed. Source code shows how computer programs work and is used to build products. Gaining access to such code could have given the hackers valuable insight into how they might exploit programs or evade detection. Microsoft said its security philosophy, or “threat model”, anticipates that its source code will be viewed, and that defenses are built with that in mind.

Microsoft had previously said it, too, had received a malicious update of software from information technology provider SolarWinds Corp that was used to breach government agencies and companies around the world. The details of the campaign are still largely unknown, including how many organisations were victimised and what was taken by the hackers. Bloomberg News reported in December that investigators have determined at least 200 organisations were attacked as part of the campaign.

Microsoft said the hackers didn’t use the SolarWinds update to reach the internal account, but declined to elaborate on exactly how the attackers gained access. The company also didn’t specify in the blog post which code repositories were accessed, nor how long the hackers were inside the company’s network, but reiterated that there is no indication its systems were used to attack others.

“This activity has not put at risk the security of our services or any customer data, but we want to be transparent and share what we’re learning as we combat what we believe is a very sophisticated nation-state actor,” the company said. – Bloomberg

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