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Microsoft president Brad Smith. Illustration: Axios Visuals

Seizing upon a flaw in software from SolarWinds, Russian hackers spent months leisurely probing the computer systems of dozens of businesses and government agencies. By contrast, when the intrusion was detected, tech companies and government agencies had to scramble to close the hole, assess damage and try to learn techniques to block future attacks.

Between the lines: Fresh details on how Microsoft, SolarWinds, GoDaddy and various government agencies managed the response to last winter's massive security failure are included in an update to a book co-authored by Microsoft president and longtime top lawyer Brad Smith.

Among the revelations:

  • Microsoft convened urgent meetings spearheaded by CEO Satya Nadella designed to make sure that all of the company's top security organizations were focused on the effort.
  • The company also mobilized more than 500 workers to respond to the SolarWinds attack.
  • The Russian attackers used a server at GoDaddy to establish separate backdoors into the different victims. However, that common server also had a "kill switch" that, once discovered, could be used to halt the spread of the attack. That work was carried out, in part, by transferring the server in question from GoDaddy to Microsoft.

The big picture: In the book's new sections, Smith writes that SolarWinds represented more than cyber-espionage as usual, but wasn't a full-on act of cyber-war, either.

  • Rather, Smith writes, it was a "moment of reckoning" that showed just how much unfinished work remains to be done to set global rules and norms for how technology can be used by nation-states to attack one another.

What's next: The SolarWinds attack offered a variety of lessons for preventing future attacks. Many of Smith's recommendations are standard best practices: using cloud-based systems (or at least fully patched on-premises servers), requiring multi-factor authentication and adopting a "zero trust" approach.

  • More interesting is what Smith says is lacking in the broader security ecosystem, especially when it comes to communication between business and government as well as among different businesses.
  • The U.S. government itself fails to sufficiently share data on cybersecurity threats, according to Smith: "Repeatedly in late 2020 we found people in federal agencies asking us about information in other parts of the government, because it was easier to get it from us than directly from other federal employees."
  • "It's impossible to avoid the grave conclusion that the sharing of cybersecurity threat intelligence today is even more challenged than it was for terrorist threats before 9/11," Smith writes.

Of note: Microsoft was both investigator and victim in the SolarWinds attack. At the same time it was trying to help customers evaluate and minimize damage, the company was also trying to assess how much information the attackers had gained by accessing Microsoft's own servers and viewing company source code.

The latest: The paperback edition of "Tools and Weapons" goes on sale today, with three new chapters, including the one on the SolarWinds response.

Go deeper: The long tail of the SolarWinds breach

Go deeper

Iranian nationals charged with spreading election disinformation, threatening voters

FBI Director Christopher Wray. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A federal grand jury in New York indicted two Iranian nationals on charges related to a cyber-based disinformation campaign to "undermine voter confidence" and "sow discord" in the 2020 election.

Why it matters: The indictment, unsealed Thursday, alleges that the hackers claimed to be members of the Proud Boys and sent messages to thousands of voters threatening them with "physical injury" if they didn't vote for former President Donald Trump.

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

MLB headed for first lockout since '95 as deal expires

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred (L) and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark. Photo: Matt King/MLB via Getty Images

Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday without a new deal in place.

Why it matters: With no CBA, the MLB is headed for the first management lockout since a 1994-95 strike led to the cancelation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.

Media giants back Bannon's bid to release Jan. 6 documents

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon at the FBI Washington Field Office in Washington, DC., in November. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A coalition of news outlets including the Washington Post is supporting Stephen Bannon's campaign for the release of documents related to his contempt of Congress charges, WashPost confirmed Wednesday.

Why it matters: WashPost, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal's parent company and others filed a motion arguing that a proposed protective order seeking to prevent the documents from being released violates the First Amendment, per the Daily Mail, which first reported on the news.