Microsoft identifies source of Windows 2000 attacks

Users

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Microsoft Corp is blaming users' failure to apply listed security measures for an "unexplained" surge in attempted hacks against Windows 2000-based servers.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft yesterday said it has determined a spate of hacks against Windows 2000-based servers do not exploit product-related security vulnerabilities. Neither do attacks appear viral or worm-like in nature, as had been suspected.

Microsoft spoke after last week recording a "significant spike" in attacks. Microsoft had warned that as of 30 August, its Product Support Services (PSS) Security Team had been unable to determine the technique used to gain access to PCs.

Yesterday, though, Microsoft said the PSS Security Team has finally identified the reason for the attacks - users.

"The attacks seek to take advantage of situations where standard precautions have not been taken," Microsoft said in an article posted on its web site.

The company listed standard precautionary measures not being adopted by users, including the elimination of blank or weak administrator passwords, disabling of guest accounts, running current anti-virus software with up-to-date virus signature definitions, using firewalls to protect internal servers including domain controllers, and maintaining up-to-date security patches.

"Blank passwords are the kind of thing that can be locked down [by the user]... there's room for improvement to make things easier," a Microsoft spokesperson said.

The company last week also alerted users to an increase in attacks against Windows 98, 98 Second Edition, 98 Millennium Edition, NT Workstation 4.0, NT Server 4.0, NT Server Enterprise Edition 4.0, XP 64-Bit Edition, XP Home Edition and XP Professional.

No mention of these operating systems was made yesterday. The Microsoft spokesperson said the PSS Security Team had initially worked on an assumption the increase in attacks also applied to these operating systems. However, he said attack data had only been gathered for Windows 2000.

The spokesperson said the PSS Security Team had applied a wide-ranging warning to ensure all customers were aware of potential risks. "We didn't want to paint with too narrow a brush," he said.

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