Microsoft Corp. today released software updates to plug four security holes that attackers have been using to plunder email communications at companies that use its Exchange Server products. The company says all four flaws are being actively exploited as part of a complex attack chain deployed by a previously unidentified Chinese cyber espionage group.
The software giant typically releases security updates on the second Tuesday of each month, but it occasionally deviates from that schedule when addressing active attacks that target newly identified and serious vulnerabilities in its products.
The patches released today fix security problems in Microsoft Exchange Server 2013, 2016 and 2019. Microsoft said its Exchange Online service — basically hosted email for businesses — is not impacted by these flaws.
Microsoft credited researchers at Reston, Va. based Volexity for reporting the attacks. Volexity President Steven Adair told KrebsOnSecurity it first spotted the attacks on Jan. 6, 2021.
Adair said while the exploits used by the group may have taken great skills to develop, they require little technical know-how to use and can give an attacker easy access to all of an organization’s email if their vulnerable Exchange Servers are directly exposed to the Internet.
“These flaws are very easy to exploit,” Adair said. “You don’t need any special knowledge with these exploits. You just show up and say ‘I would like to break in and read all their email.’ That’s all there is to it.”
Microsoft says the flaws are being used by a previously unknown Chinese espionage group that’s been dubbed “Hafnium,” which is known to launch its attacks using hosting companies based in the United States.
“Hafnium primarily targets entities in the United ..