Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) revealed this week that Russian state-sponsored hackers breached parts of its network in a cyber attack bearing similarities to recent hacks targeting Microsoft and other tech firms. The attack highlights the growing threat of nation-state actors targeting critical infrastructure and sensitive corporate data.
HPE Confirms “Midnight Blizzard” Cyber Attack
On January 23rd, HPE submitted an 8-K filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission stating that HPE had become aware of “unauthorized access to certain HPE systems” by a threat actor known as “Midnight Blizzard.” HPE stated that the hackers targeted and gained access to email and document repositories belonging to a “very limited number” of employee accounts, including members of HPE’s security investigation team.
While details remain limited, sources indicate that the methods and tactics used suggest Midnight Blizzard is in fact the notorious Russian cyber espionage group Cozy Bear, which has been attributed to Russia’s foreign intelligence service. Cozy Bear has been linked to breaches at numerous US government agencies and private corporations over the past decade.
|Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)
|“Midnight Blizzard” (Suspected to be Cozy Bear/Russian state hackers)
|Method of Access
|Email/document repository breach
|Emails and docs from security team and limited employee accounts
|January 23, 2024
|Date of Attack
|Unknown, likely late 2022/early 2023
Cozy Bear has been known to maintain persistence in breached networks for surveillance/intelligence gathering purposes, raising concerns that HPE’s systems may have been compromised for quite some time before detection.
Links to Recent Microsoft Hack
The HPE cyber attack bears striking resemblance to the recent hack of Microsoft allegedly conducted by the same Cozy Bear actor. In the Microsoft attack, the hackers utilized a method called “password spray” to gain access to employee email accounts belonging to senior Microsoft executives.
The Microsoft hack went undetected from at least mid-2022 until being discovered in December 2024. The access enabled the hackers to obtain sensitive information about Microsoft’s cybersecurity detection capabilities, product releases, litigation issues and more.
Given that Cozy Bear is believed to be behind both intrusions, experts say it is highly likely the HPE breach is related to the Microsoft one in some form. Possible motives include further intelligence gathering about defensive measures, technical capabilities, and sensitive insider data from yet another major US tech provider.
Expert Analysis on Implications
Cybersecurity experts have raised alarm about the HPE breach and its significance amid the wave of recent high-profile hacks by state-sponsored groups.
CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz said of the Microsoft hack: “The reality is that very sophisticated nation-state adversaries have unlimited time and nearly unlimited resources to achieve their objectives.” He warned that hackers are continuously evolving their tactics and corporate defenses are struggling to keep pace.
Analyst firm Tech Vision Research warned that “The latest Microsoft and HPE attacks highlight worrying flaws in security processes.” They say the attacks show that even companies who prioritize cybersecurity can still be vulnerable to nation-state actors.
Critics argue that Microsoft failed to adequately secure and monitor its systems, enabling the Cozy Bear hackers to operate unimpeded before detection. Senator Mark Warner stated: “Microsoft was clearly negligent in leaving massive security vulnerabilities untouched for months on end.”
Meanwhile law experts say the HPE breach may trigger SEC disclosure requirements related to cyber incidents and risks posed to investors. Previous major hacks have resulted in shareholder lawsuits due to perceived lapses in security protections and disclosures.
It remains unclear whether Cozy Bear has been fully removed from HPE’s systems or if they still retain some level of access. Given the prolonged duration of the Microsoft breach, there are concerns the hackers may have already exfiltrated substantial proprietary data from HPE as well.
Researchers urge HPE and other tech firms to conduct robust investigations into potential additional footholds, backdoors and compromised credentials that could be leveraged for future access. Cozy Bear is known to establish multiple persistent access mechanisms that can evade detection.
This latest high-profile breach will likely amplify calls for stronger cybersecurity collaboration between government agencies and private sector companies. Some analysts argue that only a joint public-private task force combining resources and intelligence has any chance of countering the advanced capabilities of Russian state-sponsored hacking groups.
As geopolitical tensions remain heightened between Russia and the West, experts widely expect Russian cyber campaigns targeting critical infrastructure and intellectual property to continue escalating. Both government and corporate entities are having to grapple with the new reality of continuously defending against the unrelenting intrusion attempts of patient and persistent nation-state actors.
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