Who Is Midnight Blizzard? Russian-Linked Group Has Repeatedly Targeted Microsoft, Company Says

Published 4 months ago
By Forbes | James Farrell
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(Photo illustration by Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


Microsoft says that the Russian-linked group known as Midnight Blizzard or Nobelium has made repeated attempts to access Microsoft’s systems in recent weeks, escalating its efforts against Microsoft since the company first disclosed in January that Midnight Blizzard had accessed some of its corporate email accounts.


The group first launched its attack on Microsoft in November, with the company disclosing in January that the group had successfully used a “password spray attack,” trying a large number of potential passwords on known accounts, to finally access “a very small percentage of Microsoft corporate email accounts.”

On Friday, Microsoft announced in both a blog post and an SEC filing that Midnight Blizzard was using information lifted from that attack “to gain, or attempt to gain, unauthorized access” to the company’s source code repositories and internal systems.


Microsoft says that Midnight Blizzard has increased the volume of its attacks “by as much as 10-fold” compared to what the company had already seen in January.

While Microsoft maintains that none of its customer-facing systems have been compromised, it noted that Midnight Blizzard may have accessed some emails between customers and Microsoft, and Microsoft has begun reaching out to affected customers.

Midnight Blizzard, as Microsoft refers to it, goes by several names, including Nobelium, APT29 and perhaps most recognizably Cozy Bear—the name that made headlines when it targeted the Democratic National Convention ahead of the 2016 elections, part of the hack which led to the discovery of Russian efforts to manipulate U.S. politics that year.


Midnight Blizzard, reported at the time as Cozy Bear, was one of two Russian-linked groups cited for the infamous hack of the Democratic National Convention ahead of the 2016 election. The other group, Fancy Bear, is believed to be linked to Russian military intelligence, also known as the GRU, which likely played a “more active role” in the hack and Russia’s widely reported disinformation campaign, according to Adam Meyers, head of counter adversary operations at CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm that first investigated the DNC hack. Cozy Bear, on the other hand, is associated with the Russian SVR, which is Russia’s external intelligence agency and was likely doing “intelligence collection” in the hack, Meyers said.



Cozy Bear has a “long operational history” dating back to the 2010s, Meyers told Forbes, often engaging in campaigns targeting diplomatic and political intelligence collection. The DNC hack wasn’t its only high-profile campaign. The group has been pinned for the 2020 hack of SolarWinds, a Texas-based IT firm, which then passed along compromised system updates to thousands of customers—including Microsoft and U.S. agencies, including the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. More recently, the hacks targeting Microsoft and also hacks in January targeting Hewlett Packard, have brought the group back into public awareness.


Microsoft wrote in its filing that its investigation into the attacks is ongoing, that findings will continue to evolve “and further unauthorized access may occur.”


Meyers raised concern about Microsoft’s ability to contain the attack, given its warning about potential further unauthorized access. He noted Microsoft was also breached in the SolarWinds attack and pointed to access from Chinese hackers who accessed emails from State Department officials through Microsoft. He said he believed that Microsoft is a “national security threat” due to this history of breaches, noting the company’s many contracts with governments around the world—many of whom are electing new leaders this year—and its own advanced artificial intelligence models. “Think about what a Russian threat actor like Cozy Bear can do with some of the most advanced AI models known to man,” Meyers told Forbes. Forbes has contacted Microsoft for comment.