Microsoft uncovers Russian hack-attacks aimed at US mid-term elections

Thursday, 23 August, 2018

Microsoft has announced it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting the US Senate and conservative think tank groups ahead of this year’s mid-term elections.

Microsoft pointed the finger at a hacking group known as APT28, also known as the Fancy Bear Group, who have ties to the Russian government.

According to the tech giant the group had created at least six fake websites related to Senators and conservative organisations that tricked visitors and hacked into their computers.

Although Microsoft said they had no current evidence that any visitor had clicked on the fake sites, they nevertheless represented another example of Russia’s involvement in the American political system.

Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit took down the sites after obtaining a court order. So far Microsoft has used the courts a dozen times since 2016 to shut down an estimated 84 fake websites created by APT28.

APT28 has been active since 2007 and has been linked with Russia’s secret military intelligence agency, GRU (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate).

In its court papers Microsoft said APT28 had ‘sought to establish a command and control infrastructure by which means defendants conduct illegal activities, including attacks on computers and networks, monitoring of the activities of users and the theft of information.’

Two of the fake sites highlighted by Microsoft included the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank and the International Republican Institute, a not-for-profit group that promotes democracy worldwide.

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.

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

- Microsoft spokesperson

It is now widely accepted that Russia and other states are interfering with American politics. A recent poll found that six in ten Americans believe Russia is systematically meddling in American politics to sow discontent and disruption to their political processes.

Experts, as well as Microsoft believe that foreign states, but especially Russia will continue to hack into US politics as it is proving to be highly successful. Even President Trump, back in January acknowledged there was a serious problem.

Microsoft’s latest efforts are part of Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program which was launched in April and has focused on four major priorities. This includes protecting campaigns from hacking, protecting voting and the electoral processes, increasing political advertising transparency and defending against disinformation campaigns.

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.