Sneak-and-peek Midnight Blizzard attack highlights “worrying flaws” in Microsoft security processes

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Russian state-linked cyber criminals gained access to the emails of Microsoft’s senior leadership in an attack that security professionals said highlights “worrying flaws” in the company’s security processes. 

The threat group, dubbed ‘Midnight Blizzard’ under Microsoft’s in-house taxonomy, reportedly used a password spray attack to compromise a legacy account. Thereafter, the threat actors used this to access what Microsoft claimed was a “very small percentage” of corporate emails.

Midnight blizzard exfiltrated some emails and attached documents, apparently targeting email accounts for “information related to Midnight Blizzard itself.”

The initial attack began back in November and, months later, has left the top tier of Microsoft communications exposed.

Mike Newman, CEO of My1Login said the incident raises serious concerns over Microsoft security practices.

“This is an alarming security breach that could highlight worrying flaws in Microsoft’s security processes,” he told ITPro.

“With the criminals being able to access the organization’s systems via a password spraying attack, this means Microsoft was using basic, or already compromised passwords, on some of their systems.”

Ironically, Microsoft put out a warning as far back as 2021 about Midnight Blizzard, also known more commonly as Nobelium.

Following a hack of SolarWinds which went undetected for months, Microsoft issued a warning on its Microsoft Security Response Centre that highlighted the exact same “password spray and brute-force attacks” - which Nobelium has since gone on to target Microsoft itself with.

“While Microsoft has claimed that the password spraying attack impacted a legacy non-production account, it still should never have been vulnerable to this sort of assault,” Newman said.


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“Organizations need to learn from this incident, because if a tech giant like Microsoft can be breached so easily through passwords, so can they,” he added.

The Microsoft breach is an example of a novel practice employed by some threat groups, given that it was specifically aimed at gathering intelligence on the group itself to ascertain the extent of the company’s knowledge on their activities.

These sorts of breaches, also referred to as reconnaissance attacks, are notoriously difficult to mitigate against.

Threat actors want to make as little noise as possible when undertaking reconnaissance, meaning that they’ll avoid leaving the typical breadcrumb trail of corrupt or stolen data.

This hack on Microsoft isn’t an isolated incident, either.

The threat group APT28 masqueraded as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to gain access to Cisco routers in 2021.

According to the National Cyber Security Center (NCSA), the group was thought to have obtained “sensitive network information” that allowed them to later install malware on Cisco’s systems.

A similar incident in 2020 saw Russia’s military intelligence service conduct cyber reconnaissance against officials and organizations at the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games.

George Fitzmaurice
Staff Writer

George Fitzmaurice is a staff writer at ITPro, ChannelPro, and CloudPro, with a particular interest in AI regulation, data legislation, and market development. After graduating from the University of Oxford with a degree in English Language and Literature, he undertook an internship at the New Statesman before starting at ITPro. Outside of the office, George is both an aspiring musician and an avid reader.