Feeds

MS blocks staff dial-in access after ‘minor’ hack

If you're safe now, why cut off 39,000 employees for the weekend?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

According to Microsoft it knew about the hacker's intrusion almost immediately, it tracked the hacker's movements through its network, and it shut down all of the accounts used by the hacker last week. So how come it blocked access to its corporate network for all of its employees, globally, over the weekend?

Since Friday the company has been mounting a determined effort to convince the world that its systems, its software and its source code are secure, and if you take the story according to Microsoft at face value, the threat from the hacker was minor, was finite, and has now passed. A "Microsoft official" quoted in today's Wall Street Journal even went as far as suggesting that the company has detailed information that will help pinch the perpetrator.

So if it's all over bar the arresting, the only reasons for shutting down access must surely be that Microsoft has belatedly concluded that there are - as we suggested yesterday - serious problems with the way it runs its network security. In this context Microsoft's explanation of why it originally said the hacker could have been loose for six weeks, rather than the 12 days it now claims, is significant.

The six week period takes us back to when the corporate email system was taken down because of a virus outbreak, and Microsoft's security team initially feared - so it said - that the two might have been connected. But the real connection is their awareness of the fact that the methods of propagation for both were the same. If Microsoft staff and Microsoft systems are vulnerable to viral email attachments, then they must also be vulnerable to QAZ Trojans intended to break into the network. And besides, under current circumstances there's a high probability of copycat attacks.

Microsoft is clearly beginning a long, hard look at its network security, and Register sources suggest this is not before time. Said one: "MS source control is not very locked down. Pretty much every MS employee can commit to the tree. Which means if you're hacked in and you know this, you can commit your own backdoor code into Windows that might stand a chance of going gold."

This doesn't sound entirely plausible, although the large teams Microsoft has working on code would tend to make it more difficult to police security, and possible easier for rogue code to get through. A tale from Microsoft Germany, however, sounds all too convincing:

"Where I work, I have a colleague who has worked at MS Germany. He once mentioned that he had set up himself a dial-up server with callback in one of the labs there. This server remained active more than a year after he left. To quote: 'Need a new Office - no problem just keep leeching a weekend or so - it's callback, so it's for free.' Of course it was against security-policy (' ...and of course I had turned-off all logging').

"The server was only removed presumably during a full restructuring of the lab, where it was probably found to be superfluous and shut down..."

All companies are of course like this, but as Microsoft is probably the biggest, fattest, most tempting target for hackers, it really can't afford to be like this for much longer. ®

Related Stories:
MS hacked! Russian mafia swipes WinME source?
Redmond strives to cram Great MS Hack back in box

SANS - Survey on application security programs

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
IRS boss on XP migration: 'Classic fix the airplane while you're flying it attempt'
Plus: Condoleezza Rice at Dropbox 'maybe she can find ... weapons of mass destruction'
Ditch the sync, paddle in the Streem: Upstart offers syncless sharing
Upload, delete and carry on sharing afterwards?
New Facebook phone app allows you to stalk your mates
Nearby Friends feature goes live in a few weeks
Microsoft TIER SMEAR changes app prices whether devs ask or not
Some go up, some go down, Redmond goes silent
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.