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In a January regulatory filing, Microsoft revealed that a Russian intelligence group gained entry to a non-production test tenant account, opening a door that enabled access to the email accounts of senior executives working on Microsoft’s security and legal teams.

While the breach had no material effect on the company’s finances or operations, according to the Microsoft statement, the incident nonetheless illustrates the importance of challenging the long-held notion of trust within network security. Why should access to one system give a green light to access others?

The conventional model of network security operates on the principle of “trust but verify.” Under this model, once a user or device gains access to the network, they are often granted extensive privileges and are trusted implicitly until they prove to be untrustworthy through anomalous behavior or security incidents. This approach is inherently flawed, as it leaves networks vulnerable to internal threats and lateral movement by malicious actors who have breached the perimeter. Microsoft experienced this first-hand.

Lessons Learned

In a statement to news outlets, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s executive assistant director for cybersecurity Eric Goldstein said CISA is “closely coordinating with Microsoft to gain additional insights into this incident and understand impacts so we can help protect other potential victims.”

Analysts have suggested the breach was likely attributable to the company disregarding two now-standard security protocols by using a simple password without multi-factor authentication. But that only explains one point of entry. Zero Trust Architecture (ZTA) would have prevented the foreign intelligence group from penetrating further into Microsoft’s systems once inside.

ZTA inverts the traditional trust model by operating on the premise of “never trust, always verify.” In essence, it assumes that no entity, whether a user, device, or application, should be trusted by default, even if they are inside the network perimeter. Instead, ZTA requires continuous verification and authentication for every access request, regardless of the entity's location within the network. 

Before It’s Too Late

As demonstrated by Microsoft’s uncomfortable disclosure, traditional security models are proving to be inadequate while instances of data breaches and cyberattacks accelerate. As the sophistication of threats continues to evolve, so must our approach to protecting sensitive information. Nowhere is this more important than in federal and local government, which administers our nation’s most critical data, software, and systems.

GovDataHosting designs highly secure, compliant, scalable, and cost-efficient cloud solutions for federal agencies and government contractors, helping to safeguard digital assets and maintain public trust. Don’t wait for an embarrassing breach or cybersecurity incident to rile your organization. Reach out today to speak with a cybersecurity specialist.

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