Computer security experts said Tuesday that the masterminds of the massive cyber attack targeting nearly 18,000 companies in the United States in 2020 were “disciplined and focused,” citing the need to share information about current threats.
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The attack began in March, as hackers took advantage of an update of surveillance software developed by SolarWinds in Texas, used by tens of thousands of companies and governments around the world.
Computer systems of US government agencies have also been targeted, including the Departments of State, Trade, Treasury, Homeland Security, and the National Institutes of Health.
The attack was discovered in December by an IT security group FireEye, which was itself the victim of a cyberattack.
FireEye president Kevin Mandia told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the hackers “were disciplined and focused.” “They were targeting specific targets, and they had a plan and program to collect data,” he said.
For his part, Microsoft President Brad Smith said: “We have substantial evidence pointing to the Russian foreign intelligence agency, and there is no evidence that will lead us elsewhere.”
US authorities had already identified Russia as the main suspect in the attack, and the Washington Post said on Tuesday that the government was studying the possibility of imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Microsoft revealed in December that hackers could gain access to a portion of the company’s computer code by hacking an employee’s account.
According to Brad Smith, at least 1,000 highly skilled and capable engineers took part in the “most sophisticated attack we have seen so far” that also targeted companies in Mexico, Canada and Great Britain. Brittany, Belgium, Spain, United Arab Emirates.
Smith added that another flaw used by hackers is the lack of authority to centralize information related to cyberattacks while Microsoft’s contracts with government agencies prevent the company from communicating about attacks with other agencies.
Among the avenues to explore, the Microsoft chief suggested the idea of forcing a corporate victim of a cyberattack to provide a “classified notice” to a government entity responsible for sharing intelligence.
FireEye president has insisted on the need for legal protection for companies like SolarWinds in the face of potential lawsuits from their customers who fall victim to cyberattacks.