“This is an active threat,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. “Everyone who runs these servers – government, private sector, academia – must act now to patch them.”
Later on Friday, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency underscored the risk in unusually plain language, stating in a tweet that malicious activity, if left unchecked, could “allow an attacker to gain control of the entire network. business “.
In an unusual step, White House officials have urged private sector organizations that run localized installations of Microsoft Exchange server software to install several critical updates that were released in what information security experts described as an emergency patch version.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Friday that the Defense Department is currently working to determine whether it has been negatively affected by the vulnerability.
“We are aware of it and we are evaluating it,” Kirby said. “And that’s as far as I can go right now.”
But the malicious activity revealed this week is in no way related to the SolarWinds hack, Microsoft said Tuesday.
Microsoft typically releases software updates on the second Tuesday of each month. But in a sign of the seriousness of the threat, Microsoft released the patches that address the new vulnerabilities, which had never been detected until now, a week earlier.
‘We urge network operators to take it very seriously’
“We urge network operators to take it very seriously,” Psaki said of the directive. The administration is concerned there by a “large number of victims,” he added.
A person working for a Washington think tank told CNN that the attackers targeted his personal and work email accounts. Microsoft sent him a warning that a foreign government was behind this. AOL sent a similar notification for the personal account.
The person was then visited by FBI agents who showed up at his door, repeating that this was a sophisticated and ongoing hack by a foreign government and that there is a nationwide FBI investigation underway.
The attackers had used their unauthorized access to send emails to the person’s contacts, “adapting [the messages] so that the recipient does not doubt that I am the sender. “The fraudulent emails from the attackers sent on behalf of the person included invitations to non-existent conferences and referred to an article on their behalf and a book on behalf of a colleague, nor that it was written by them.
Each message, the person said, came with links that asked people to click on them.
The US government’s unusually public response to the incident came as a surprise to many experts, a reflection of both the Biden administration’s focus on cyber issues compared to the Trump White House and the scale of the threat.
CNN’s Michael Conte and Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.