Biden administration launching task force to investigate whether China orchestrated Microsoft Exchange hack

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • On Tuesday, Microsoft said their Exchange product had been hacked by a state-backed Chinese entity.
  • At least 30,000 businesses and government bodies were affected by the hack, which began in January.
  • The Biden administration is setting up a task force to probe the attack, CNN reported.
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President Joe Biden’s administration is launching a task force to investigate the recent hack of a popular Microsoft product, allegedly backed by Beijing, CNN reported.

On Tuesday, Microsoft said that its Exchange email server had been hacked by the “Hafnium” group with the support of the Chinese state. The breach began in early January and was discovered by the cyber security firm Volexity.

Wang Wenbin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Wednesday there was insufficient evidence to prove Chinese state involvement.

The number of organizations affected by the hack, which included government agencies and businesses, numbered at least 30,000, according to cybersecurity reporter Brain Krebs.

A former US national security official told WIRED the hack was “absolutely massive” adding that “we’re talking thousands of servers compromised per hour, globally.”

The Microsoft logo.

As a result of the hack, a US official told CNN that a new multi-agency “Unified Coordination Group” task force will include FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) agents.

“We’re now working with our partners and looking closely at the next steps we need to take. This is an active threat still developing and we urge network operators to take it very seriously,” the official said, per CNN.

Microsoft said Hafnium were a “highly skilled and sophisticated actor” and, in a statement, laid out how the attack unfolded.

“First, it would gain access to an Exchange Server either with stolen passwords or by using the previously undiscovered vulnerabilities to disguise itself as someone who should have access. Second, it would create what’s called a web shell to control the compromised server remotely. Third, it would use that remote access – run from the US-based private servers – to steal data from an organization’s network,” Microsoft said.

The company has since released a security update that rectified issues across versions of Exchange from 2013 to 2019 and recommended that users install updates immediately.

On Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Friday that the Exchange servers had “significant” weaknesses.

The White House still regards the situation as an “active threat,” CNN said.

Jeff Jones, a senior director at Microsoft, told The New York Times: “We are working closely with the CISA, other government agencies, and security companies to ensure we are providing the best possible guidance and mitigation for our customers.”

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Intel drops 6% after a reported hack forced the chipmaker to release its 4th-quarter earnings early

  • Intel shares fell 6% on Friday after a reported hack forced the company to release earnings early.
  • A hacker gained unauthorized access to financially-sensitive information from Intel’s website, the FT said.
  • The chipmaker’s fourth-quarter revenue exceeded investor expectations and its own forecast.
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Shares in Intel fell as much as 6% in early trading Friday, after the company said its corporate website was hacked, pushing the chipmaker to release its fourth-quarter earnings earlier than planned. 

George Davis, Intel’s chief financial offer, told the Financial Times a hacker gained unauthorized access to sensitive data tied to its earnings report that was set to be published after the market close on Thursday. But upon finding out about the attack, the chipmaker released its results six minutes before the market close.

“An infographic was hacked off of our PR newsroom site,” Davis told the newspaper. “We put our earnings out as soon as we were aware.” Without providing further details, he said the breach was caused by an unlawful action that didn’t involve any unintentional disclosure by Intel.

An Intel spokesperson told Insider the company is investigating reports that non-authorized access may have been obtained to one graphic from its earnings report. 

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Intel’s fourth-quarter results exceeded investor expectations and beat the company’s own forecast on the back of strong PC sales. The chipmaker saw quarterly revenue fall 1% year-on-year to $20 billion, but still beat the $17.49 billion estimate of analysts polled by Refinitiv. Net income for the quarter came in at $1.52 per share, compared to $1.10 expected.

Intel’s shares closed up almost 7% at $62.46 on Thursday, but erased gains after the reported hacker’s access to information.

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