ProPublica: Microsoft Refused to Fix Flaw Years Before SolarWinds Hack

Renee Dudley and Doris Burke, reporting for ProPublica which is not, contrary to the opinion of one U.S. Supreme Court jackass justice, “very well-funded by ideological groups” bent on “look[ing] for any little thing they can find, and they try[ing] to make something out of it”, but is instead a distinguished publication of investigative journalism:

Microsoft hired Andrew Harris for his extraordinary skill in keeping hackers out of the nation’s most sensitive computer networks. In 2016, Harris was hard at work on a mystifying incident in which intruders had somehow penetrated a major U.S. tech company.


Early on, he focused on a Microsoft application that ensured users had permission to log on to cloud-based programs, the cyber equivalent of an officer checking passports at a border. It was there, after months of research, that he found something seriously wrong.

This is a deep and meaningful exploration of Microsoft’s internal response to the conditions that created 2020’s catastrophic SolarWinds breach. It seems that both Microsoft and the Department of Justice knew well before anyone else — perhaps as early as 2016 in Microsoft’s case — yet neither did anything with that information. Other things were deemed more important.

Perhaps this was simply a multi-person failure in which dozens of people at Microsoft could not see why Harris’ discovery was such a big deal. Maybe they all could not foresee this actually being exploited in the wild, or there was a failure to communicate some key piece of information. I am a firm believer in Hanlon’s razor.

On the other hand, the deep integration of Microsoft’s entire product line into sensitive systems — governments, healthcare, finance — magnifies any failure. The incompetence of a handful of people at a private corporation should not result in 18,000 infected networks.

Ashley Belanger, Ars Technica:

Microsoft is pivoting its company culture to make security a top priority, President Brad Smith testified to Congress on Thursday, promising that security will be “more important even than the company’s work on artificial intelligence.”

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, “has taken on the responsibility personally to serve as the senior executive with overall accountability for Microsoft’s security,” Smith told Congress.


Microsoft did not dispute ProPublica’s report. Instead, the company provided a statement that almost seems to contradict Smith’s testimony to Congress today by claiming that “protecting customers is always our highest priority.”

Microsoft’s public relations staff can say anything they want. But there is plenty of evidence — contemporary and historic — showing this is untrue. Can it do better? I am sure Microsoft employs many intelligent and creative people who desperately want to change this corrupted culture. Will it? Maybe — but for how long is anybody’s guess.