Russia Breached Update Server Used by 300,000 Organizations, Including the NSA

Sunday Reuters reported that “a sophisticated hacking group” backed by “a foreign government” has stolen information from America’s Treasury Department, and also from “a U.S. agency responsible for deciding policy around the internet and telecommunications.”

The Washington Post has since attributed the breach to “Russian government hackers,” and discovered it’s “part of a global espionage campaign that stretches back months, according to people familiar with the matter.” Officials were scrambling over the weekend to assess the extent of the intrusions and implement effective countermeasures, but initial signs suggested the breach was long-running and significant, the people familiar with the matter said. The Russian hackers, known by the nicknames APT29 or Cozy Bear, are part of that nation’s foreign intelligence service and breached email systems in some cases, said the people familiar with the intrusions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The same Russian group hacked the State Department and the White House email servers during the Obama administration… [The Washington Post has also reported this is the group responsible for the FireEye breach. -Ed]

All of the organizations were breached through the update server of a network management system called SolarWinds, according to four people familiar with the matter. The company said Sunday in a statement that monitoring products it released in March and June of this year may have been surreptitiously weaponized with in a “highly-sophisticated, targeted…attack by a nation state.” The scale of the Russian espionage operation is potentially vast and appears to be large, said several individuals familiar with the matter. “This is looking very, very bad,” said one person. SolarWinds products are used by more than 300,000 organizations across the world. They include all five branches of the U.S. military, the Pentagon, State Department, Justice Department, NASA, the Executive Office of the President and the National Security Agency, the world’s top electronic spy agency, according to the firm’s website. SolarWinds is also used by the top 10 U.S. telecommunications companies…

APT29 compromised the SolarWinds server that sends updates so that any time a customer checks in to request an update, the Russians could hitch a ride on that update to get into a victim’s system, according to a person familiar with the matter. “Monday may be a bad day for lots of security teams,” tweeted Dmitri Alperovitch, a cybersecurity expert and founder of the Silverado Policy Accelerator think tank.
Reuters described the breach as “so serious it led to a National Security Council meeting at the White House.”