MSFT: Security Is Not Job One. News or Not?

June 11, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

The idea that free and open source software contains digital trap falls is one thing. Poisoned libraries which busy and confident developers snap into their software should not surprise anyone. What I did not expect was the information in “Malicious VSCode Extensions with Millions of Installs Discovered.” The write up in Bleeping Computer reports:

A group of Israeli researchers explored the security of the Visual Studio Code marketplace and managed to “infect” over 100 organizations by trojanizing a copy of the popular ‘Dracula Official theme to include risky code. Further research into the VSCode Marketplace found thousands of extensions with millions of installs.


I heard the “Job One” and “Top Priority” assurances before. So far, bad actors keep exploiting vulnerabilities and minimal progress is made. Thanks, MSFT Copilot, definitely close enough for horseshoes.

The write up points out:

Previous reports have highlighted gaps in VSCode’s security, allowing extension and publisher impersonation and extensions that steal developer authentication tokens. There have also been in-the-wild findings that were confirmed to be malicious.

How bad can this be? This be bad. The malicious code can be inserted and happily delivers to a remote server via an HTTPS POST such information as:

the hostname, number of installed extensions, device’s domain name, and the operating system platform

Clever bad actors can do more even if the information they have is the description and code screen shot in the Bleeping Computer article.

Why? You are going to love the answer suggested in the report:

“Unfortunately, traditional endpoint security tools (EDRs) do not detect this activity (as we’ve demonstrated examples of RCE for select organizations during the responsible disclosure process), VSCode is built to read lots of files and execute many commands and create child processes, thus EDRs cannot understand if the activity from VSCode is legit developer activity or a malicious extension.”

That’s special.

The article reports that the research team poked around in the Visual Studio Code Marketplace and discovered:

  • 1,283 items with known malicious code (229 million installs).
  • 8,161 items communicating with hardcoded IP addresses.
  • 1,452 items running unknown executables.
  • 2,304 items using another publisher’s GitHub repo, indicating they are a copycat.

Bleeping Computer says:

Microsoft’s lack of stringent controls and code reviewing mechanisms on the VSCode Marketplace allows threat actors to perform rampant abuse of the platform, with it getting worse as the platform is increasingly used.


Let’s step back. The US Federal government prodded Microsoft to step up its security efforts. The MSFT leadership said, “By golly, we will.”

Several observations are warranted:

  1. I am not sure I am able to believe anything Microsoft says about security
  2. I do not believe a “culture” of security exists within Microsoft. There is a culture, but it is not one which takes security seriously after a butt spanking by the US Federal government and Microsoft Certified Partners who have to work to address their clients issues. (How do I know this? On Wednesday, June 8, 2024, at the TechnoSecurity & Digital Forensics Conference told me, “I have to take a break. The security problems with Microsoft are killing me.”
  3. The “leadership” at Microsoft is loved by Wall Street. However, others fail to respond with hearts and flowers.

Net net: Microsoft poses a grave security threat to government agencies and the users of Microsoft products. Talking with dulcet tones may make some people happy. I think there are others who believe Microsoft wants government contracts. Its employees want an easy life, money, and respect. Would you hire a former Microsoft security professional? This is not a question of trust; this is a question of malfeasance. Smooth talking is the priority, not security.

Stephen E Arnold, June 11, 2024


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