New Russian hacking attempts targeted conservative groups, Microsoft says

Tuesday 21 august 2018

Microsoft has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting U.S. political groups ahead of the midterm elections, the technology giant reported Tuesday.

This attempt, tied to a hacking group affiliated with the Russian government, spoofed a pair of conservative think-tanks, the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute.

There’s no sign the hackers were successful in getting anyone to click on the fake websites, the Associated Press reported, and both organizations said their global pro-democracy work has previously made them targets.

The New York Times reported that the latest hacking attempts underscore the Russian intelligence agency’s goal to disrupt any political challenges to Moscow and President Vladimir Putin.

“We are now seeing another uptick in attacks. What is particular in this instance is the broadening of the type of websites they are going after,” Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, was quoted in the NYT. “These are organizations that are informally tied to Republicans, so we see them broadening beyond the sites they have targeted in the past.”

The hacking attempts also included three other phony sites that appeared to be affiliated with the Senate, the Washington Post reported.

“This apparent spear-phishing attempt against the International Republican Institute and other organizations is consistent with the campaign of meddling that the Kremlin has waged against organizations that support democracy and human rights,” IRI President Daniel Twining told the Post. “It is clearly designed to sow confusion, conflict and fear among those who criticize Mr. Putin’s authoritarian regime.”

Microsoft obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the hacking group, which it calls Strontium.

The fake websites, which were registered with major web-hosting companies, were at my-iri.org, hudsonorg-my-sharepoint.com, senate.group, adfs-senate.services, adfs-senate.email and office365-onedrive.com, according to Microsoft and reported by the Post.

A similar Microsoft discovery led Missouri Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who’s running for re-election, to reveal last month that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.

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