Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

Evidence found of Russian hacking attempts targeting U.S. political groups

Microsoft said Tuesday it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting U.S. political groups ahead of the midterm elections.

The company said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the U.S. Senate.

Microsoft didn’t offer any further description of the fake sites.

The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is running for re-election, to reveal that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.

The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election, which U.S. intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to elect Republican Donald Trump to the presidency by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

RELATED: Facebook finds ‘sophisticated’ efforts to disrupt U.S. elections

This time, more than helping one political party over another, “this activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.

Smith said there is no sign the hackers were successful in persuading anyone to click on the fake websites, which could have exposed a target victim to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance and data theft. Both conservative think tanks said they have tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their global pro-democracy work has frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.

“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”

The International Republican Institute is led by a board that includes six Republican senators, and one prominent Russia critic and Senate hopeful, Mitt Romney, who is running for a Utah seat this fall.

Microsoft calls the hacking group Strontium; others call it Fancy Bear or APT28. An indictment from U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller has tied it to Russian’s main intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and to the 2016 email hacking of both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

“We have no doubt in our minds” who is responsible, Smith said.

RELATED: Trump criticized for not leading effort to secure elections

Microsoft has waged a legal battle with Strontium since suing it in a Virginia federal court in summer 2016. The company obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the group. It has so far used the courts to shut down 84 fake websites created by the group, including the most recent six announced Tuesday.

Microsoft has argued in court that by setting up fake but realistic-looking domains, the hackers were misusing Microsoft trademarks and services to hack into targeted computer networks, install malware and steal sensitive emails and other data.

Smith also announced Tuesday that the company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all U.S. political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations, at least so long as they’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software. Facebook and Google have also promoted similar tools to combat campaign interference.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Home fire displaces Okanagan tenants for “at least one night”

Firefighters able to contain fire to a single room

Motorcycle ride in memory of Penticton man

Motorcycle enthusiast was murdered in Kamloops earlier this year

Santa to kick off holiday season in West Kelowna

Saint Nick will be at two community events in West Kelowna at the beginning of December

Kelowna innkeeper’s fundraiser hits $1 million mark

This year’s Innkeeper’s Gala raises $84,080, pushing 30-year total to more than $1 million

Freezing rain, flurries possible for Central and North Okanagan

Risk of freezing rain tonight and Saturday morning in Central, North Okanagan and Connector

PHOTOS: NHL honours B.C. grandma’s battle against cancer in special match

Shea Theodore’s grandmother Kay Darlington dropped the puck at a special ‘Hockey Fights Cancer’ game

Two-vehicle crash at North Okanagan intersection

Truck and SUV involved at Alexis Park Drive and 43rd Avenue

Mosaic Forest Management announces forestry shutdown

Thousands of forestry workers in Coastal B.C. will be affected by ‘curtailment’

Nothing wrong with being mistaken for a sex trade worker

Twice in my life, I’ve been mistaken for a sex trade worker.… Continue reading

Support sought for senior dog at SPCA in North Okanagan

Teki came in underweight, had surgery to remove two painful lumps and dental work

Appeal dismissed for B.C. man who assaulted woman in ‘thoroughly modern’ fight over phone

‘Both were seeking evidence of cheating by the other,’ says B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo

Princeton pot plant owners concerned about fake website

We don’t want people thinking that’s our company.

Vandals target Cowork Penticton mural

‘Calliope’ is meant to be a simble for weaving separate parts together to form a community

Vernon’s homeless numbers see modest decrease

An annual fall survey found there are 151 homeless people in the city compared to 161 in 2018

Most Read