Brigadier-General Gregory J. Touhill said in a blog post issued on Monday: "Given the publication of Sandworm and recent DoJ indictments of Russian cyber operators, you’d think the intelligence community would be on the lookout for these actors.
"An attack like this highlights just how hard it is to find and interdict attacks at cyber speed."
The attack came to light this month when cyber security firm FireEye announced on 9 December AEDT that it had been compromised and had its Red Team tools stolen.
Five days later, FireEye issued details about attacks using malware which it called SUNBURST, which it said had been used to hit both private and public entities, by corrupting the Orion network management software, a product of SolarWinds.
A number of US Government departments — Homeland Security and Treasury among them — have been named as being affected. FireEye, too, appears to have been a victim. The Orion software has very wide usage in the US and also in Britain.
Touhill said given the presumed attribution of the attackers, it was very likely that they still had hidden capabilities in victims' networks that would be very difficult to find and eradicate.
"That will likely force many to conclude that the only way to neutralise the threat is to 'burn down' their existing network and rebuild, probably leveraging more cloud-based 'as-a-service' capabilities and/or taking a Zero Trust approach," he added.
Touhill also criticised Microsoft for the fact that its Office 365 mail was penetrated. "The revelation that government instances of Microsoft 0365 email were penetrated by the attacker by hijacking user credentials indicates that Microsoft’s conditional access is insufficient to properly implement Zero Trust," he said.
"I also don’t believe it was just email that was exposed in the O365 environment. Assume it all was breached. This isn’t over. I suspect that we’ll find there are a lot more victims in both public and private sectors."
He said, in his opinion, the attackers had the following objectives:
"They wanted to gain access to specific targets to secure access to specific information. Based on what I’m seeing, they likely were successful.
"They wanted to penetrate important supply chains used by government and critical infrastructure. Check that box.
"They wanted to see what capabilities we had to detect their use of certain tools, tactics, techniques, and procedures. With the report of their success against FireEye, check that box. I’ll bet they visited FireEye competitors too.
"Given the wide penetration their successful attack has brought, the widespread fear, uncertainty and doubt in the efficacy of current cyber security products and capabilities wrought by the attack revelations is an extra bonus for the attackers."