Microsoft: Russians targeted conservative think tanks, U.S. Senate

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The Russian intelligence office that breached the Democratic National Committee in 2016 has spoofed websites associated with the U.S. Senate and conservative think tanks in a further attempt to sow discord, according to new research from Microsoft.

The tech giant last week executed a court order and shut down six internet domains set up by the Kremlin-linked hacking group known as Fancy Bear or APT 28, Microsoft President Brad Smith said.

“We have now used this approach 12 times in two years to shut down 84 fake websites associated with this group,” Smith wrote in a blog post. “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.”

The domains were constructed to look like they belonged to the Hudson Institute and International Republican Institute, but were in fact phishing websites meant to steal credentials.

The two think tanks are conservative, yet count many critics of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin among their members. The International Republican Institute lists Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as board members. The Hudson Institute and International Republican Institute also have programs that promote democracy and good governance worldwide.

There is no evidence that the domains had been used to carry out successful cyberattacks, according to Microsoft. The company says it continues to work with both think tanks and the U.S. Senate to guard against any further attacks.

The attacks come as more and more instances of cyberattacks directed at the 2018 midterm elections come to light. Last month, Russian intelligence targeted Sen. Claire McCaskill, a critic of Moscow and a red-state Democrat who faces a tough reelection bid in Missouri. Additionally, a number of election websites have been hit with DDoS attempts during their primary elections.

“We are concerned by the continued activity targeting these and other sites and directed toward elected officials, politicians, political groups and think tanks across the political spectrum in the United States,” Microsoft’s blog post read. “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.”

Smith also announced that Microsoft was providing cybersecurity protection for candidates, campaigns and political institutions that use Office 365 at no additional cost.

Greg Otto contributed to this story. 

-In this Story-

APT28, Brad Smith, Claire McCaskill, Fancy Bear, Hudson Institute, International Republican Institute, John McCain, Microsoft, phishing, Russia
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