Hackers hit 32 Indian firms via Microsoft email servers

New Delhi: At least 32 Indian organizations have been attacked by hackers who exploited vulnerabilities in unpatched Microsoft business email servers, a new report warned on Monday, adding that the finance and banking institutions have been hit the most in the country.

The finance and banking institutions (28 percent) in India are followed by government military organizations (16 percent), manufacturing (12.5 percent), insurance legal (9.5 percent), and others (34 percent), according to Check Point Research.

Overall, the hacking attempts on organizations using the services of those unpatched on-premises servers have multiplied by more than six times (or tripled) in the past 72 hours.

The country most attacked was the US (21 percent of all exploit attempts), followed by The Netherlands (12 percent) and Turkey (12 percent), along with India.

Targeted industry sector

The most targeted industry sector has been government/military (27 percent of all exploit attempts), followed by manufacturing (22 percent), and then software vendors (9 percent), the researchers noted.

“A full race has started among hackers and security professionals. Global experts are using massive preventative efforts to combat hackers who are working day-in and day-out to produce an exploit that can successfully leverage the remote code execution vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange,” said the researchers from the cyber security firm.

Amid reports indicating that about five different hacking groups are attacking the business email servers of Microsoft, the tech giant has also detected a new family of ransomware.

New ransomware

Named as ‘DearCry,’ the new ransomware is “being used after an initial compromise of unpatched on-premises Exchange Servers,” Microsoft said in a tweet last week. It uses the same four vulnerabilities that Microsoft linked to a new China-backed hacking group called “Hafnium”.

On March 3, Microsoft released an emergency patch for its Exchange Server product, the most popular mail server worldwide. All incoming and outgoing emails, calendar invitations and virtually anything accessed within Outlook goes through the Exchange server.

Orange Tsai from DEVCORE, a security firm based in Taiwan, reported two vulnerabilities in January.

Unaware of the full magnitude of these findings, Microsoft was prompted to further investigate their Exchange server. The investigation uncovered five more critical vulnerabilities.

The vulnerabilities allow an attacker to read emails from an Exchange server without authentication or accessing an individual’s email account.

Further vulnerability chaining enables attackers to completely take over the mail server itself.

“If your organisation’s Microsoft Exchange server is exposed to the internet, and if it has not been updated with the latest patches, nor protected by a third party software, then you should assume the server is completely compromised,” warned Lotem Finkelsteen, Manager of Threat Intelligence, Check Point Software.

Right now, the purpose of the attack and what cybercriminals wanted within the network is still unknown.