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White House warns of 'active threat' from Microsoft email hackers

March 5, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 43.3%. 2 min read.

The Biden administration is increasingly sounding the alarm over a series of newly discovered cyber intrusions that Microsoft said this week were linked to China.

Washington (CNN)The Biden administration is increasingly sounding the alarm over a series of newly discovered cyber intrusions that Microsoft said this week were linked to China.

Psaki's warnings followed a tweet by national security adviser Jake Sullivan Thursday evening that underscored how concerned the Biden administration is.

Sullivan said the US government is monitoring reports that US think tanks may have been compromised by the attack, as well as "defense industrial base entities. "

In a rare step, White House officials have urged private sector organizations running localized installations of Microsoft Exchange server software to install several critical updates that were released in what information security experts described as an emergency patch release.

The cybersecurity firm FireEye said Thursday it had already identified a number of specific victims, including "US-based retailers, local governments, a university, and an engineering firm. "

Microsoft disclosed this week that it had become aware of several vulnerabilities in its server software being exploited by suspected Chinese hackers.

In the past, Microsoft said, the hacker group responsible -- which Microsoft is calling Hafnium -- has gone after "infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher education institutions, defense contractors, policy think tanks, and NGOs. " The group in question had not been previously identified to the public, according to Microsoft.

The announcement marked the latest information security crisis to hit the US after FireEye, Microsoft and others reported a suspected Russian hacking campaign that began by infiltrating the IT software company SolarWinds.

But the malicious activity disclosed this week is not in any way related to the SolarWinds hack, Microsoft said Tuesday.

Microsoft typically releases software updates on the second Tuesday of each month.

The Department of Homeland Security also released an emergency directive on Tuesday requiring federal agencies to either update their servers or to disconnect them.

"We urge network operators to take it very seriously," Psaki said of the directive.

Once the Hafnium attackers compromise an organization, Microsoft said, they have been known to download data such as address books and to gain access to its user account database.

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