Russian hackers are back targeting American democracy. This time it’s the midterm elections. And three congressmen are the targets.
Tom Burt, corporate vice president for customer security and trust at Microsoft, told delegates at an Aspen Security Forum in Colorado Thursday that Russian hackers had registered a fake Microsoft website earlier this year. It was a phishing website and unspecified “metadata” indicated it was set up to target three separate candidates for the 2018 midterms. Burt didn’t have many more specifics, though he said the phishing page was targeted at those candidates’ staff.
Phishing pages are sites that look legitimate but aren’t. They typically either trick victims into handing over passwords or attempt to download malware on their computer. In the attacks on the Clinton campaign, for instance, fake Gmail messages were sent to the candidate’s staff, asking them to change their passwords. The emails took targets to a fake Google page controlled by the hackers.
It was unclear whether the midterm hackers were the same as those believed by American intelligence agencies to have broken into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016. Burt did, however, previously refer to a hacker crew his company calls Strontium (more commonly referred to as Fancy Bear), which Microsoft had attempted to disrupt.
“They [the congressmen] were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint as well as an election disruption standpoint,” he said. “We don’t know the answer.”
Burt said the phishing website was taken down and Microsoft had worked with the government to “avoid anyone being infected by that particular attack.” “They did not get in,” he said. “They tried, they were not successful.”
Despite concern over the attacks on the unnamed candidates, Burt said that in investigating with partners like Facebook, it was apparent Russian activity was not at the same level as in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election.
“That doesn’t mean we’re not going to see it. There’s a lot more time left before the election,” he added.
Microsoft declined to provide more information on the attacks.
Trump vs. intelligence
The Microsoft exec’s claims came a week after President Trump went back and forth on whether he believed Putin had ordered cyberattacks on the Democrat bodies. During a press conference with the Russian president, Trump said he had “great confidence” in his intelligence advisors but noted “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Trump later backtracked, but then claimed Russia was no longer targeting the U.S., contradicting Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence (and now Microsoft). Just yesterday, the White House said it was going to invite Putin to America for a visit this fall.
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