What Microsoft’s Revelation About Russian Hacking Means for the Midterms

August 21, 2018, 9:41 AM UTC

Microsoft announced Monday that it had detected and thwarted the early stages of an attempted attack on the U.S. Senate and two conservative think tanks by Fancy Bear, the Russia-linked group that hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016.

Microsoft president Brad Smith told The New York Times that the latest detected threat demonstrates a broadening in the types of websites hackers are going after, to now include organizations that are “informally tied to Republicans.”

Eric Rosenbach, the director of the Defending Digital Democracy project at Harvard University, similarly told the Times that Russians are attacking organizations based on their own self-interest rather than a preference between the two major American parties: “It’s about disrupting and diminishing any group that challenges how Putin’s Russia is operating at home and around the world.”

This latest attempt to gain access to political leaders ahead of the November midterm elections is not the only one that has been detected. Last week, it emerged that two Democratic congressional primary candidates were hacked, though the attacker has not yet been publicly identified.

Microsoft received a court order to take control of six websites that were designed to resemble Congressional domains, such as “senate.group” and “adfs-senate.email.” The Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute were also targeted. Using these domains, hackers could have carried out a “spearphishing” attack to obtain user credentials, similar to the one that brought down Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta in 2016.

The latest revelation comes amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia ahead of the midterm elections. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russia continues, and a U.S. grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers on charges of hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. Meanwhile, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin continue to deny any Russian meddling in the election, even as politicians and experts warn that the system remains vulnerable to attack.

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