Microsoft Uncovers More Russia Attacks 08/21 08:59
(AP) -- Microsoft has uncovered new hacking attempts by Russia targeting
U.S. political groups ahead of the midterm elections.
The company said Tuesday that a group tied to the Russian government created
fake websites that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations:
the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other
fake sites were designed to look as if they belonged to the U.S. Senate.
Microsoft didn't offer any further description of the fake sites, and the
Russian officials dismissed its claims as unfounded.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cited the lack of detail on the hack, and
said it wasn't clear "who the hackers in question are" and how they could
distort the U.S. electoral system.
The revelation of new hacks arrives 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.
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
"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,
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.
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
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.