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DHS says preventable 2023 Microsoft breach aided by China hackers

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TLDR:

  • The DHS Cyber Safety Review Board found that the 2023 Microsoft security breach by Chinese hackers was preventable due to a corporate culture that deprioritized security investments.
  • Chinese hackers took advantage of compromised employee laptops and legacy infrastructure weaknesses.

A new report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber Safety Review Board (CSRB) has criticized Microsoft for its role in the mid-2023 cyber attack by Chinese hackers that compromised government email accounts. The CSRB found that the security breach was preventable, highlighting a corporate culture at Microsoft that lacked emphasis on security investments and risk management. The breach, attributed to a Chinese state-backed threat group, raised concerns about security practices at Microsoft, a company whose products are deeply integrated into government systems.

The report identified a series of operational and strategic decisions at Microsoft that indicated deficiencies in the company’s security culture. It also critiqued the company for misleading public statements and slow updates in response to the breach. The review emphasized that the breach could have been prevented if Microsoft had implemented an automatic key rotation system and had better security practices in place.

The breach, which impacted at least 22 organizations and 500 individuals, allowed Chinese hackers to access Exchange Online email accounts for several weeks. The report called for immediate improvements in security measures at Microsoft and recommended a halt to adding new features in cloud computing environments until security issues were addressed. Microsoft responded by mobilizing its engineering team to address legacy infrastructure weaknesses and implement better security protocols.

Some experts, however, criticized the report for singling out Microsoft for common corporate failures and suggested that a culture of shame and blame may not be the most effective way to improve cybersecurity practices across the industry. Despite differing opinions on the approach, the report has underscored the importance of cybersecurity as a top priority for companies, especially those with a significant impact on national security and critical infrastructure.

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