Microsoft blamed a Chinese cyber-espionage group for attacks on mail server software.
The company says it belongs to a government-sponsored group of hackers who are “a very talented and sophisticated player”. In a blog post on the subject, Microsoft stated that the hacking campaign exploited four previously undetected vulnerabilities in different versions of the software.
Microsoft: They used four vulnerabilities
The resulting vulnerabilities allowed hackers to access e-mail inboxes remotely. Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center linked the attacks with Hafnium, a “high-confidence” government-sponsored group operating outside of China.
The company based this decision on “the observed victim science, tactics, and procedures.” In addition, Microsoft announced that Hafnium is targeting infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher education institutions and defense contractors. He added that political think tanks and non-governmental organizations may also have been targeted.
The company has been experiencing this for the eighth time in the past 12 months, which it publicly blames on nation-state groups targeting institutions critical to civil society.
Microsoft said that although Hafnium is based in China, it primarily operates from virtual private servers for rental in the United States. Microsoft also reported that Hafnium observed interacting with users of the Office 365 suite.
In addition, it should be noted that the company has released software updates to address security vulnerabilities in its software.
Microsoft said the attack was in no way related to the SolarWinds attack that hit US government agencies late last year.
While many US tech firms have a turbulent relationship with the Chinese government, Microsoft has been on the mainland since 1992. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Microsoft’s business-oriented social media platform LinkedIn is still accessible in China. On the other hand, even though Baidu dominates the search market as a local search engine, Bing is still available in China. The company also runs a center for artificial intelligence research in China.