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Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Microsoft -- Again

Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Microsoft -- Again
January 21, 2014 1:37PM

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The attacks against Microsoft by the Syrian Electronic Army aren’t particularly sophisticated or novel. In going after Microsoft, the Syrian Electronic Army has used well-known breaching tactics. But the fact that the hacktivist group is continually successful shows that the industry needs to do a better job guarding against these tactics.

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One particular hacktivist group seems to have a bone to pick with mighty Microsoft. First, the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) hijacked a few of Redmond’s Twitter accounts. Next, the group invaded the company’s official blog. Now, the SEA has hacked into Microsoft’s Office Blogs site.

The hackers took to Twitter with proof positive in the form of a screenshot of the Microsoft Office Blog site. The SEA article was titled “Hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army” and was placed next to “Office 15-Minute Webinars” and “Top 5 Reasons to attend Sharepoint Conference 2014” on the blog’s home page.

Microsoft was quick to take down the article, but Google searchers can still find the cached image. The attack comes as Microsoft rolled out a new design for its Office Blog site -- complete with a new content management system (CMS) -- on Monday and the SEA’s Twitter message reads, “Dear @Microsoft, Changing the CMS will not help you if your employees are hacked and they don’t know about that.”

Breaking the Pattern

“A targeted cyberattack temporarily affected the Microsoft Office blog,” the company said in a statement. “The account was quickly reset and we can confirm that no customer information was compromised.”

We caught up with Ken Pickering, director of Engineering at CORE Security, to get his take on the Microsoft attacks. He told us the attacks aren’t particularly sophisticated or novel. The SEA, he noted, uses well-known breaching tactics and the fact that they are continually successful shows that the industry needs to do a better job guarding against these tactics.

“How do we break this pattern? Here’s the methodology I always advise: In order to prevent attacks, you need to think like an attacker. Consider how the ‘bad guys’ will try to break into your account and/or network, and counteract those tactics,” Pickering said. “We, as an industry, get hung up on testing for compliances and following 'best practices,' while losing sight of the ever-present battle with which IT and security personnel are consistently embroiled.”

Layered Defense Needed

Like Anonymous, the SEA has made quite a name for itself in the hacker world. The hacktivist group has targeted many media sites, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Associated Press, The Guardian, Twitter and Twing, over the past year.

Kevin O'Brien, enterprise solution architect at CloudLock, told us these attacks are one more example of why companies need to implement properly layered defense strategies. Again, the issue with the DNS compromise was that a single point of failure -- the domain record company hacked, in this case -- resulted in "real-world" damages.

"Any time a single point of failure exists, one should assume that it will be the target of concerted effort on the behalf of criminals who wish to exploit, destroy, or compromise an organization," O'Brien said. "The coming days will tell for certain, but it's probably safe to assume that the Gray Lady's staff had not considered whether or not their DNS host was properly auditing and securing their environment. In turn, the DNS host was probably not doing the same for their resellers."

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