Microsoft announced that its Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) has obtained legal clearance to take control of websites used by a Chinese gang to attack targets around the world, often by exploiting vulnerabilities in Microsoft products.

A post Tom Burt, credited with Microsoft’s customer security and trust company, says the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has granted Microsoft control over malicious websites operated by a group called Nickel, the has been around since at least 2016.

Burt’s Post indicates that Microsoft has discovered Nickel trying to tap information from “government agencies, think tanks, and human rights organizations.” Control of the sites Nickel owned would make it difficult for the gang to carry out such attacks, Burt said.

Nickel is also known as “KE3CHANG”, “APT15”, “Vixen Panda”, “Royal APT” and “Playful Dragon”.

Whatever the name of the gang, they target unpatched systems in the hope of owning them and running them with stealthy malware.

Burt explains that Nickel enjoys spearphishing to obtain user credentials and that it has not been behind the scenes of attacking VPN providers to compromise users. It also targets unpatched Exchange and SharePoint servers.

Readers will be shocked to learn that Burt’s post fails to consider whether Microsoft’s software engineering practices might play a role in the problems Nickel is exploiting.

Rather, Burt says, “No individual action by Microsoft or anyone else in the industry will stop the tide of attacks we’ve seen from nation-states and cybercriminals working within their borders.” Burt would like industry, governments, civil society and others to work together to … create a new consensus on what is and is not appropriate in cyberspace.

The registry Leaves it up to readers to consider whether or not posting defective products is appropriate behavior. ®

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