Microsoft accuses Austrian company of being behind spyware targeting law firms and banks

A Microsoft logo is seen on a pop-up site at Roosevelt Field in Garden City, New York July 29, 2015. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) – Security researchers from Microsoft (MSFT.O) have said an Austrian company was behind a series of digital intrusions into banks, law firms and businesses. strategy consulting firms in at least three countries.

The DSIRF company has developed spyware – malicious software designed to spy on or steal information from a target’s device – called “Subzero” which uses so-called Zero-day exploits to gain access to confidential information such as words passwords or login credentials, Microsoft said in a blog post on Wednesday.

“Victims observed to date include law firms, banks and strategy consulting firms in countries including Austria, the UK and Panama,” the message said, without identifying the victims.

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DSIRF, or Vienna-based DSR Decision Supporting Information Research Forensic GmbH, did not respond to email and phone requests for comment.

Zero-day exploits are serious software flaws of great value to hackers and spies because they work even when the software is up to date.

The term comes from the number of warnings users receive to protectively patch their machines; a two-day flaw is less dangerous because it appears two days after a patch is made available.

Some cybersecurity companies are developing such tools to deploy alongside routine “pentesting” or penetration testing, to test a company’s digital defenses against malicious attacks.

“Microsoft’s interaction with a victim confirmed that they did not consent to red teaming and malware deployment, and confirmed that this was unauthorized activity,” said Microsoft security unit general manager Cristin Goodwin, who authored the report, told Reuters.

According to a copy of an internal presentation published last year by German news site Netzpolitik, DSIRF touts Subzero as a “next-generation cyber warfare” tool that can take full control of a target’s PC, steal passwords and reveal its location.

Another of the slides in this presentation showed several uses of spyware, including fighting terrorism and targeting human trafficking and child pornography rings.

Microsoft’s findings come as the United States and Europe mull tougher rules on spyware vendors, a fast-growing and under-regulated global industry, and after NSO-developed Pegasus spyware of Israel was found to have been used by governments to spy on journalists and dissidents.

“This industry appears to be thriving,” Shane Huntley, senior director of the threat analysis group at Alphabet (GOOGL.O), told a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.

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Reporting by James Pearson; Additional reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in San Francisco; Editing by David Holmes

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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