If March’s IT news proved anything, it’s that no one is safe from a data breach — not even Microsoft. 

The hack targeted hundreds of thousands of Microsoft Exchange users across the globe, specifically businesses and government agencies. The hackers, known as Hafnium, gained access to email accounts, address books, and countless other private information.

Alarming details continue to arise as investigators delve deeper into the data breach. Here’s what you need to know and how you can protect yourself.

A Quick Look at the Data Breach

If you’re asking yourself how a leading corporation allowed itself to become vulnerable to such a large-scale breach, you’re not alone. In truth, no software is completely infallible, not even Microsoft Exchange.

Here’s what we know:

Who Did It?

Hafnium, a China-based group of hackers, is responsible for the attack. They often target private companies in the United States, and according to Microsoft, they are a “highly skilled and sophisticated actor.”

The United States government claims the attack isn’t related to the recent Solar Winds breach, which is thought to be orchestrated by the Russian government.

Who Were the Victims?

American companies were most affected by the data breach—not individual users. Investigators identified several specific victims but have not released names to the public. They have, however, identified the industries that were most heavily targeted:

  • Law firms
  • Infection disease researchers
  • Academic institutions
  • Defense contractors
  • Government agencies

There is a silver lining in all this: Microsoft’s cloud-based products weren’t breached, and that means Microsoft’s cloud users have one less thing to worry about.

How Did the Data Breach Happen?

Microsoft explained that four vulnerabilities in its software allowed Hafnium access to their data. Since the cyberattack, several other hackers have attempted to exploit those same vulnerabilities.

The hackers used the information gained from their data breach to launch large-scale phishing scams and install additional malware.

How Did Microsoft Respond?

Microsoft immediately offered patches as temporary protection against the breach, which targeted four specific weaknesses in the system. These patches contained cumulative updates for the following:

  • Exchange Server 2010
  • Exchange Server 2013
  • Exchange Server 2016
  • Exchange Server 2019

Microsoft warned users that they still needed to update to the latest supported CU and the applicable SUs. And although the response was rapid, it contained flaws. Users learned they could improperly install the patches without receiving an error message, leaving them unaware of their continued vulnerability. The security fixes also caused some users’ Outlook program to crash, another costly and frustrating development.

As with most breaches, the damage lingers. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned that bad actors had already heavily exploited the breach in the hours and days after the original hack, and the numbers piled up in the weeks afterward. 

All users of Microsoft Exchange were urged to use the security patches even if they were not sure that hackers had breached their systems. Making these installs was more than an inconvenience for many organizations.

Protecting Your Organization Against a Data Breach

Even if you have in-house IT staff, the complications of data breaches may be too much for them to handle. The threats come from all over the world and involve hostile governments and non-affiliated groups using sophisticated hacking methods. 

Once IT experts have identified the breaches, applying the temporary fixes and permanent updates is time-consuming and sometimes difficult. And your company data may already be out there for all to access.

You can better protect your organization by outsourcing some or all of your IT security services to a managed service provider (MSP). An MSP stays current with all levels of cybersecurity, making it your first line of defense against cyberattacks, especially a large one like the one on Microsoft Exchange. These teams know how to react quickly to large-scale attacks, minimizing damage and stopping other hackers from exploiting the breach.

The ThrottleNet Solution

ThrottleNet offers you a comprehensive security strategy. We take a multi-layered approach, implementing the latest technologically advanced tools. Firewalls are just one part of a successful defense strategy. We show you how to implement multiple tools so that you have detailed recovery and disaster plans ready in case of an attack on your system.

You need an IT team that understands the programs it supports, including its strengths and weaknesses. At ThrottleNet, we don’t just offer security programs — we understand them. In today’s cyber climate, you cannot afford to do business with inadequate cyber-protection. Hiring an MSP means you can afford the same advanced service that vast organizations have, even if you are a small to mid-size company. Contact us today to learn more about our commitment-free IT programs.


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