Russia accounted for most state-sponsored hacking detected by Microsoft over the past year, with a 58-percent share, mostly targeting government agencies and think tanks in the United States, followed by Ukraine, Britain and European NATO members, the company said.
The devastating effectiveness of the long-undetected SolarWirnds hack — it mainly breached information technology businesses including Microsoft — also boosted Russian state-backed hackers’ success rate to 32% in the year ending June 30, compared with 21% in the preceding 12 months.
China, meanwhile, accounted for fewer than 1 in 10 of the state-backed hacking attempts Microsoft detected but was successful 44% of the time in breaking into targeted networks, Microsoft said in its second annual Digital Defense Report, which covers July 2020 through June 2021.
While Russia’s prolific state-sponsored hacking is well known, Microsoft’s report offers unusually specific detail on how it stacks up against that by other U.S. adversaries.
The report also cited ransomware attacks as a serious and growing plague, with the United States by far the most targeted country, hit by more than triple the attacks of the next most targeted nation. Ransomware attacks are criminal and financially motivated.
By contrast, state-backed hacking is chiefly about intelligence gathering — whether for national security or commercial or strategic advantage — and thus generally tolerated by governments, with U.S. cyber operators among the most skilled. The report by Microsoft Corp., which works closely with Washington government agencies, does not address U.S. government hacking.
The SolarWinds hack was such an embarrassment to the US government, however, that some Washington lawmakers demanded some sort of retaliation. President Joe Biden has had a difficult time drawing a red line for what cyberactivity is permissible. He has issued vague warnings to President Vladimir Putin to get him to crack down on ransomware criminals, but several top administration cybersecurity officials said this week that they have seen no evidence of that.