Hafnium Breach: Where Do We Go From Here?

Posted on 17 March 2021

As if 2021 wasn’t eventful enough, the already-bulging headlines are now awash with mentions of the Hafnium-led Microsoft breach. But as organisations patch and recover, the real question is what do we do now? 

Entering 2021 with something of a bang, it’s no surprise that Hafnium’s Wikipedia page is suddenly seeing a great deal more traffic. Thrust into the spotlight, the cyber espionage group – dubbed an ‘advanced persistent threat’ by many – Hafnium’s newfound infamy is rooted in its timely Microsoft Exchange Server data breach (which has already received a dedicated Wikipedia page all its own).

The group were able to steal usernames and passwords, guarantee access to connected devices, and furnish themselves with administrator privileges – all by exploiting a series of zero-day vulnerabilities within Exchange servers.

Here There Be Danger

Here in the UK, the attack has already ranged across 7000 servers to date, contributing to the worldwide figure of 250,000 – no small prize to the discerning hacker. What’s more, the breach has left organisations open to further attacks by other actors away from Hafnium, raising the stakes even further – and said stakes are already high enough.

As with any cyberattack or breach, the most important asset on the line is data. Suddenly, malicious actors can access huge swathes of information from impacted organisations, giving rise to compliance challenges, GDPR issues, and – of course – a decline in trust from customers and colleagues.

The impact doesn’t stop with hard data, either: hackers were able to take control of servers and spy on victims – some of whom had work in areas of significant interest, including banking, vaccine development, and defence contracts.

To say that the Hafnium breach has been a significant incident would be something of an understatement, with organisations now scrambling to secure their data and protect against future breaches.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Once the panic subsides and game faces are put on, there’s a clear question holding everybody’s attention: where do we go from here? There’s plenty to learn from this attack, and much to do to minimise its effect on your organisation – starting with the below.

  • Implement Zero Trust

One of the most important lessons to come from the Hafnium breach is the importance of Zero Trust – the idea that organisations should trust nothing and verify everything. Restricting untrusted connections is the first step to mitigating a breach.

In this instance, administrators could also be manipulated into running malicious files – firmly placing securing their identities and permissions front and centre. Applying the Zero Trust approach here, access can only be granted once an identity is truly proven.

  • Detect Signs of a Breach

As the officially issued patch does not work retroactively, it’s crucial that organisations ensure they’re free of malicious actors before moving on. Unfortunately, hackers may have already established a foothold in the system, granting continued access long after the patch is applied.

  • Patch + Strengthen

The patch is essential to closing the current vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange Servers, but there are additional steps organisations need to take next to prevent future breaches – including improved security for their users’ identities and regular security audits. After all, this won’t be the last threat anyone will ever face

  • Educate Users

Helping users to understand the danger of these vulnerabilities and how to detect suspicious activity will go a long way in defending organisations. If individuals are armed with the knowledge to make safer choices and the insight to spot threats, they have an additional – and invaluable – layer of protection.


The Long Road Ahead

If we’ve learnt one thing from the response to the Hafnium breach, it’s this: organisations are receiving a wake-up call, though that call may initially differ. For some, it’s an indication that on-premises and hybrid environments aren’t infallible but are still very much on Microsoft’s radar – reassuring to those at different stages of their cloud adoption journey.

For others, there’s a lesson in security and responding to such incidents; before dressing the wound, it must be cleaned – before patching, any lingering dangers must be removed.

As for the future? The next place to go from here is a more secure workplace, ready to minimise the damage of threats, while preventing them in the first place. It’s a tough journey to undertake – and not necessarily a quick one – but breaches such as this make it very clear that your data is valuable – and it’s worth protecting.

How We Can Help

In an effort to support our customers with recovering from the Hafnium breach, we’ve developed two reactionary packages:

Hafnium breach response - Scout





Our first package – Scout – is focused on helping our customers to identify current threats, vulnerabilities, and leftover risk following the Hafnium breach.


Hafnium breach response - Guardian





Our second package – Guardian – forms the first step in a longer post-Hafnium journey. As well as including all of Scout’s features, Guardian also delivers relevant solutions, further insights, and the means to mitigate future threats.

If you’re interested in learning more about either package, you can check out our Hafnium resource guide here, or get in touch with our team.

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