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Zero Trust Lesson
Zero Trust is one of the lessons learned as a result of the recent SolarWinds supply chain attack, according to Microsoft – one of the victims of the said supply chain attack.
In the blog post "Microsoft Internal Solorigate Investigation – Final Update” published on February 18, 2021, Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) Team admitted that the threat actor behind the SolarWinds supply chain attack was able to download a small subset of Azure components (subsets of service, security, identity), a small subset of Exchange components, and a small subset of Intune components.
SolarWinds Supply Chain Attack Background
In December 2020, SolarWinds reported to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that the supply chain attack on its system affected nearly 18,000 customers of SolarWinds Orion – a software used as a monitoring and management platform designed to simplify IT administration.
In a supply chain attack, an attacker accesses the source code of legitimate software and infects it with malicious code. Once this compromised software is distributed to customers, the customers' systems are compromised as well and a series of compromises follow. According to SolarWinds, the attacker inserted a malicious code within Orion which, if present and activated, "could potentially allow an attacker to compromise the server on which the Orion products run." Microsoft named this malicious code "Solorigate."
Last December, Microsoft, through the MSRC Team, admitted that it was one of the victims of the SolarWinds supply chain attack and the threat actor behind it was able to "view source code in a number of source code repositories." The December 2020 admission specified that the threat actor was able to view, while the latest February 2021 admission specified that the threat actor was able to download.
"We have now completed our internal investigation into the activity of the actor and want to share our findings, which confirm that we found no evidence of access to production services or customer data," MSRC Team said, in the latest report dubbed as the final update about Solorigate. "The investigation also found no indications that our systems at Microsoft were used to attack others."
The MSRC Team said that Solorigate reinforced one key learning: Zero Trust.
The concept of Zero Trust has been around for nearly a decade. The term was first used in 2010 by John Kindervag, then the principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. In his research and analysis of enterprises, Kindervag found that “trust” had become an essential part of the network. For Kindervag, trust is a major liability for enterprises’ networks that could result in failure over and over again in the years to come.
In the blog post "The Tao Of Zero Trust" Chase Cunningham, VP, Principal Analyst; Jeff Pollard, VP, Principal Analyst; and Stephanie Balaouras, VP, Group Director, all from Forrester Research said that the adoption of Zero Trust is based on these two factors:
"First, the cybersecurity industry has hit an inflection point wherein the massive spend to prove the negative of ‘good security’ is drying up.
"Second, CEOs and board leadership for enterprises are tired of the technical talk and miscommunication around cybersecurity operations. Zero Trust is simple in name, comprehensive in its approach, and realistic in the acceptance of the inherent failures that plague enterprises from the second they start sending electrons."
MSRC Team defined Zero Trust as a "transition from implicit trust –assuming that everything inside a corporate network is safe – to the model that assumes breach and explicitly verifies the security status of identity, endpoint, network, and other resources based on all available signals and data."
Verify explicitly, least privileged access, and assume breach are three principles of Zero Trust. Verify explicitly means that it's always important to authenticate and authorize based on all available data points. Least privileged access means that permissions are only granted to the appropriate environment and on appropriate devices to meet specific business goals. Assume breach, meanwhile, means that processes and systems must assume breach has already happened or soon will.
In the blog post "Using Zero Trust principles to protect against sophisticated attacks like Solorigate," Alex Weinert, Identity Security Director at Microsoft, said that the threat actor behind Solorigate compromised identity environments with these three major vectors: compromised user accounts, compromised vendor accounts, and compromised vendor software. "In each of these cases, we can clearly see where the attacker exploited gaps in explicit verification," Weinertsaid.
Weinert further said that the threat actor behind Solorigate took advantage of broad role assignments, permissions that exceeded role requirements, and in some cases abandoned accounts and applications which should have had no permissions at all.
Applying the lessons from the Solorigate attack and the principles of Zero Trust, Microsoft recommends enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) to reduce account compromise probability by more than 99.9%. It's important to note that attackers, however, have their ways of bypassing MFA nowadays.
Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP