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

Inquiry begins into West Kootenay RCMP shooting death

Const. Jason Tait faces charges in the 2015 shooting death of Waylon Jesse Edey in Castlegar

Avalanche Awareness Days

Columbia Valley Search and Rescue plans outreach to snowmobile community about avalanche awareness

Winter night’s delight at festival this Friday

Annual Snowflake Festival at Kinsmen Beach January 18th

Hurtling down the world’s mountains

Invermere’s Ben Thomsen having a stellar ski season

Mountainfilm on Tour returns

Event runs two nights this year, Feb 8-9th

Canada’s archive buys rare book that hints at Nazi plans for North America

The 1944 book may have served as a blueprint for a Nazi purge

Teravainen’s 3 points lift Hurricanes to 5-2 win over Canucks

Vancouver heads into all-star break on losing note

47 men arrested by Vancouver police for allegedly seeking sex with teenage girls

Seven of those arrested have been charged as part of a two-month operation

B.C. hospital apologizes for veteran’s five-day hallway stay

Clinical director of Victoria General Hospital says case of retired veteran ‘definitely excessive’

Speaker Darryl Plecas says ‘justice’ needed for legislature employees

Plecas spoke to media at the opening of a pedestrian and cycling bridge in Abbotsford Wednesday

Advocate hopes B.C. legislature scandal leads to more transparency

‘Depressing’ that it takes a scandal to inspire freedom of information reform, says Sara Neuert

‘Dr. Lipjob’ avoids jail, gets 30-day suspended sentence

She will have to serve the 30 days in prison if she commits a breach during her two-year’s probation

Kootenay boy, 10, brave in the face of cancer

Fernie Ghostriders vs. Kimberley Dynamiters game to raise funds for young fan fighting cancer

B.C.-Alberta healthcare access issues continue across Kootenays

MLA investigates rumours patient transportation services stop at the border

Most Read