Microsoft: Russia hackers' attack on US political groups thwarted

Six fake websites linked to hacker group associated with Russia shut down by software giant's digital crimes unit.

    The websites were linked to a Russian hacker group most commonly known as Fancy Bear [File: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP]
    The websites were linked to a Russian hacker group most commonly known as Fancy Bear [File: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP]

    Microsoft's digital crimes unit shut down six websites belonging to hackers who attempted to interfere with November's United States midterm elections, the company said.

    The sites, closed last week, specifically targeted two Republican think-thanks, the International Republican Institute and the Hudson Institute, according to a Microsoft statement.

    "We're concerned that these and other attempts pose security threats to a broadening array of groups connected with both American political parties in the run-up to the 2018 elections," it said.

    Russia's foreign ministry denounced Microsoft's accusations on Tuesday.

    "It is regrettable that a large international company, which has been working in the Russian market for a long time, quite actively and successfully, has to take part in a witch-hunt that has engulfed Washington," it said in a statement.

    'Continued activity'

    According to Microsoft, the six websites were linked to a group of hackers given the names Fancy Bear, APT-28 and Strontium.

    Using a technique called "spear phishing", targets would be sent to fake login pages that record their username and passwords.

    Microsoft said the latest activity showed a widening of the group's targets.

    "Despite last week's steps, we are concerned by the continued activity targeting these and other sites and directed towards elected officials, politicians, political groups and think-tanks across the political spectrum in the United States," the company said.

    "Taken together, this pattern mirrors the type of activity we saw prior to the 2016 election in the United States and the 2017 election in France." 

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    The International Republican Institute has several members on its board of directors that have been critical of US President Donald Trump, including Governor Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain.

    The Hudson Institute has hosted talks on cybersecurity and the rise of kleptocracy in Russia.

    Last month, Microsoft said Russian hackers targeted the staff of several US senators using similar techniques.

    Over the last two years, 84 websites have been taken down by the company's digital crimes unit.

    Indictments over meddling

    The US is still embroiled in an official investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 Presidential elections. In July, the country indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for alleged interference in the vote.

    The 12 individuals hacked into computer systems of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, stole information, and then made the obtained documents public while working for the Russian GRU military intelligence service, according to the indictment.

    The US has also accused Russian operatives of using fake personas to buy online advertisements aimed at spreading divisive messages, including ads focused on racial tensions.

    Russia has denied all allegations of any involvement in the US election process.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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