The Microsoft Digital Defense Report (MDDR) is an annual publication that provides insights and analysis on the state of cybersecurity in 2023. The report covers various aspects of cyber threats, such as nation-state actors, cybercrime, ransomware, phishing, malware, cloud security, and supply chain attacks. The report also highlights the efforts of Microsoft and its partners to protect customers and the broader ecosystem from these threats.
The main findings of the report are:
- Nation-state actors continue to pose a significant threat to global security and stability. They target critical infrastructure, government agencies, private sector organizations, and civil society groups with sophisticated and persistent cyberattacks. Some of the notable nation-state activities in 2023 include:
- The SolarWinds compromise, which affected thousands of organizations worldwide and exposed the vulnerabilities of the software supply chain.
- The Hafnium attack, which exploited four zero-day vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange Server and compromised tens of thousands of email servers.
- The Nobelium campaign, which leveraged the SolarWinds compromise and other techniques to target government agencies, think tanks, consultants, and non-governmental organizations.
- The Zirconium group, which conducted phishing and credential harvesting operations against prominent individuals and organizations involved in international affairs, policy making, and human rights.
- Cybercrime remains a pervasive and lucrative business for criminals who exploit the vulnerabilities of people, processes, and technology. They use various methods to steal data, extort money, disrupt operations, and damage reputations. Some of the prevalent cybercrime trends in 2023 include:
- Ransomware, which has become more sophisticated and destructive over time. Ransomware operators not only encrypt data but also exfiltrate it and threaten to leak it online if the ransom is not paid. They also use double extortion schemes, where they demand additional payments to prevent distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks or to provide decryption keys.
- Phishing, which remains one of the most common and effective ways to compromise user credentials and deliver malware. Phishing campaigns often use social engineering techniques to lure victims into clicking malicious links or opening malicious attachments. They also leverage current events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the US presidential election, and the Tokyo Olympics, to increase their success rate.
- Malware, which is constantly evolving and adapting to evade detection and mitigation. Malware authors use various techniques to obfuscate their code, encrypt their communications, hide their activities, and persist on infected systems. They also use fileless malware, which resides in memory or leverages legitimate system tools, to avoid leaving traces on disk.
- Cloud security is becoming more important as more organizations adopt cloud services and hybrid environments. Cloud security requires a shared responsibility model between cloud providers and customers. Cloud providers are responsible for securing the cloud infrastructure and platform, while customers are responsible for securing their data and applications in the cloud. Some of the challenges and best practices for cloud security include:
- Misconfiguration, which is one of the main causes of cloud breaches. Misconfiguration can occur when customers do not follow the principle of least privilege, expose sensitive data or services to the internet, or fail to apply security patches or updates. Customers should use tools and policies to monitor and enforce their cloud configuration settings and prevent unauthorized access or changes.
- Identity and access management (IAM), which is essential for controlling who can access what in the cloud. IAM involves using strong authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), passwordless authentication, or single sign-on (SSO), to verify user identities. It also involves using role-based access control (RBAC), conditional access policies, or just-in-time access mechanisms to grant users the minimum level of access they need to perform their tasks.
- Data protection, which involves encrypting data at rest and in transit, using secure key management practices, and applying data loss prevention (DLP) policies. Data protection also involves complying with relevant regulations and standards, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
- Supply chain attacks are a growing threat that can compromise multiple organizations through a single point of entry. Supply chain attacks involve compromising a trusted third-party vendor or service provider that has access to or influence over its customers’ systems or networks. Supply chain attacks can have widespread and devastating consequences for both the targeted vendor and its customers. Some of the recommendations for mitigating supply chain attacks include:
- Performing due diligence on third-party vendors and service providers before engaging with them. This includes verifying their reputation, security posture, compliance status, and incident response capabilities.
- Establishing clear contracts and service level agreements (SLAs) with third-party vendors and service providers that define their roles and responsibilities, security requirements, reporting obligations, and remediation processes.
- Implementing security controls and monitoring mechanisms to detect and respond to any anomalous or malicious activities involving third-party vendors or service providers. This includes using tools such as Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, Microsoft Defender for Identity, Microsoft Cloud App Security, and Azure Sentinel to protect and monitor endpoints, identities, cloud applications, and data.
Microsoft calls for a more coordinated and proactive approach to cybersecurity that involves the following elements:
- Building a strong security culture that fosters awareness, education, and empowerment among all stakeholders, from individuals and organizations to governments and regulators.
- Adopting a zero trust model that assumes breach and verifies every request, device, user, and network before granting access or privileges.
- Leveraging the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to enhance security capabilities, such as detection, analysis, response, and prevention.
- Sharing threat intelligence and best practices with peers, partners, and communities to improve visibility, understanding, and resilience.
- Supporting the development and implementation of global norms and rules that promote a stable and secure cyberspace.