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CISA orders agencies unplug, update on-prem Exchange servers

To protect federal agencies from risks posed by newly discovered vulnerabilities in on-premises Microsoft Exchange servers, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an emergency directive requiring civilian agencies update or disconnect that software.

"Successful exploitation of these vulnerabilities allows an attacker to access on-premises Exchange Servers, enabling them to gain persistent system access and control of an enterprise network," CISA said in its emergency directive.

CISA said it issued the directive based on the current exploitation of these vulnerabilities and the likelihood that they would be widely exploited after public disclosure risking the degradation of government services.

"The swiftness with which CISA issued this emergency directive reflects the seriousness of this vulnerability and the importance of all organizations – in government and the private sector – to take steps to remediate it," CISA acting Director Brandon Wales said.

The directive adds that the vulnerabilities are not known to affect Microsoft 365 or Azure Cloud.

ll agency CIOs must submit a report outlining their organization's status to CISA, which will provide a follow-up report to the head of the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget by April 5.

CISA's directive comes one day after Microsoft began pushing out updates to its Exchange products in response to a state-sponsored group it calls "Hafnium."

A Microsoft blog post published Tuesday said Hafnium targets U.S-based entities such as infectious disease researchers, law firms, universities, defense contractors and policy think tanks.

"Even though we've worked quickly to deploy an update for the Hafnium exploits, we know that many nation-state actors and criminal groups will move quickly to take advantage of any unpatched systems. Promptly applying today's patches is the best protection against this attack," according to the blog post.

Microsoft said it has briefed "appropriate U.S. government agencies" on Hafnium. The company also said Hafnium's activity is "in no way connected to the separate SolarWinds-related attack."

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Justin Katz is a former staff writer at FCW.


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