Hackers targeting ‘anything that looks vulnerable’ in Microsoft Exchange attacks, official says

Click to play video: 'White House warns of ‘large number of victims’ following Microsoft email hack'
White House warns of ‘large number of victims’ following Microsoft email hack
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday a cyber espionage campaign targeting Microsoft’s Exchange email software could have 'far-reaching impacts,' and may have racked up a 'large number of victims.' – Mar 5, 2021

The head of Canada’s Cyber Centre is urging organizations to close a door in their Microsoft Exchange email servers that had been left wide open for hackers to exploit.

While many companies have already patched their systems, some have yet to do so – and for those businesses, it may already be too late.

“Given the worldwide activity, it’s very probable that Canadian organizations have been impacted if they haven’t patched,” explained Scott Jones, head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (Cyber Centre), in an interview with Global News.

“The last two weeks have been a flurry of activity. Most organizations have started patching immediately, within minutes of these patches being released.”

Story continues below advertisement

On March 2, Microsoft discovered a vulnerability in its email servers that allowed hackers to infiltrate systems, compromising thousands of servers around the world with malware. The company came out with a software patch to put a stop to it but some Canadian companies still haven’t used that patch.

Click to play video: 'FireEye CEO says SolarWinds hack was found after security staff noticed issue with employee account'
FireEye CEO says SolarWinds hack was found after security staff noticed issue with employee account

Jones explained that attackers haven’t been targeting specific organizations, but rather are viewing the vulnerability as a free-for-all. No unpatched system is off-limits, he warned.

“They’re going for volume here. They’re going to compromise anything that looks vulnerable, no matter who they are. This isn’t targeted,” Jones said.

The Cyber Centre wrote in a recent update about the vulnerability that the malicious actors are “actively scanning” to see if any servers have yet to be patched. Once discovered, the hackers walk through that open doorway to upload malware – including a new kind of ransomware known as DearCry.

Story continues below advertisement

Ransomware is a type of cyberattack that infects your device, holding your information hostage until you pay a fee.

DearCry, the new variant of ransomware, was explained by cybersecurity company Palo Alto’s Unit 42 as a kind of malicious ransomware that encrypts the victim’s files and deploys a ransom note to the victim’s desktop.

Unlike most ransomware, which often demands a fixed ransom amount and may include a Bitcoin wallet address, DearCry includes email addresses that the victim is asked to contact.

Click to play video: 'Cyber security experts say ransomware data breach in health care sector is a lesson for everyone'
Cyber security experts say ransomware data breach in health care sector is a lesson for everyone

In their explanation, the Unit 42 researchers echoed Jones’ advice that all Microsoft Exchange Servers should be updated immediately to include the patched versions.

Story continues below advertisement

“(DearCry) is a perfect example of how threat actors can impact the threat landscape by taking advantage of newly disclosed vulnerabilities to make a quick profit,” the researchers wrote.

While the Cyber Centre has yet to receive any clear reports of DearCry ransomware appearing on Canadian systems, a spokesperson for the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) explained to Global News that the malware is being used around the world.

“We’ve seen reporting that DearCry ransomware is being used globally against compromised networks related to the Microsoft Exchange vulnerability. Not specifically systems within Canada,” Evan Koronewski said in an emailed statement.

Click to play video: 'Cyber security tips to avoiding scams'
Cyber security tips to avoiding scams

Despite the lack of actual reports of DearCry invading Canadian systems, Jones said the “worldwide level of exploitation” makes it “very probable.”

“In fact, it’s almost certain that there will be victims in Canada because of this,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

In an emailed statement sent to Global News on Tuesday evening, CSE confirmed that some of the unpatched systems in Canada “have been further compromised with malware.” It did not, however, specify whether DearCry was the malware in question.

Jones added that it can be hard for the Cyber Centre to provide firm numbers on the scope of any cyberattacks in Canada, as victims have to report it to the centre themselves – and it’s something they “don’t always” do, Jones added.

“We don’t talk on their behalf. It’s up to them to tell their customers, or their or their employees in this case, if they’ve been victims of a cyber-incident. But we need them to report,” Jones said.

If you think your server might be infected with malware as a result of the Microsoft Exchange vulnerability, you can email the Cyber Centre at or reach it by phone at 1-833-292-3788.

Sponsored content