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

Isn’t it spring? Forecast calling for snow in the Shuswap

Up to 10cm expected within 48 hours; motorists urged to prepare for deteriorating conditions

Rockets confident in position at upcoming WHL draft

The Rockets hold the 5th overall pick at the May 2 draft

Fighting for charity with local boxing club

“Three round heroes” returns to Kelowna’ Los Gatos Locos

Kelowna bike share services up in the air

DropBike may not return to Kelowna, but other services are knocking at the door

Coming together in Lake Country for Wounded Warriors Day

Oyama Zipline Adventure Park teams with the Okanagan Chain Gang to raise money for WWC

VIDEO: B.C.’s waving granny gets incredible send-off from school kids

Tinney Davidson has been waving at students on their way to school for over 11 years, but is moving in a month

Be wary of robot emotions; ‘simulated love is never love’

Research has shown that people have a tendency to project human traits onto robots

Osprey camera goes live in the South Okanagan

Ospreys are flying back to nest in Osoyoos for the summer

Vernon Have a Heart Radiothon returned

The fundraiser received $57,060.70 Thursday for VJH maternity ward.

Foodie Friday: Hero Burger and salad at Burger 55

Owner/operator Ronald Bee serves up his favourite burger to make at the Penticton eatery

One million recyclable bottles ‘lost’ daily in B.C., foundation says

387 million beverage containers didn’t make it back into the province’s regulated deposit refund system in 2017

Okanagan city hosting mascot battle

Vernon’s Mascot Games has nine Canadian, three U.S. mascots competing in events and raising money

Memorial bench for young South Okanagan woman who died was stolen

Someone stole the stone bench that was placed at a walking bridge across the creek

Most Read