Daily US Times: Microsoft says hackers with ties to Russia, Iran and China are attempting to snoop on people and groups involved with the US 2020 presidential election.
The tech firm says the Russian hackers who breached the 2016 Democratic campaign are again involved adding that it was “clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts” targeting the election.
Both President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s campaigns are in the cyber-raiders’ sights.
In a statement, Microsoft says Russian hackers from the Strontium group have targeted more than 200 organisations, many of which are linked to US political parties – both Democrats and Republicans.
The same cyber-attackers also targeted political parties in the UK, said Microsoft, without specifying which ones.
Strontium is also known as Fancy Bear, a cyber-attack unit allegedly affiliated with Russian military intelligence, the GRU.
What else did Microsoft say?
Tom Burt, a Microsoft vice-president in charge of customer security and trust, said: “Similar to what we observed in 2016, Strontium is launching campaigns to harvest people’s log-in credentials or compromise their accounts, presumably to aid in intelligence gathering or disruption operations.”
Microsoft said Chinese hackers had launched attacks targeting individuals related to Joe Biden’s campaign, while Iranian hackers had continued efforts targeting people associated with President Trump’s campaign.
Most of the cyber-attacks had not been successful, according to Microsoft. The attacks have also not been launched on groups that handle the voting systems themselves.
Mr Burt said: “What we’ve seen is consistent with previous attack patterns that not only target candidates and campaign staffers but also those they consult on key issues.”
“These activities highlight the need for people and organisations involved in the political process to take advantage of free and low-cost security tools to protect themselves as we get closer to election day,” he added.
The US tech giant reported that Chinese groups had launched attacks on the personal email accounts of people connected with Joe Biden’s campaign, as well as “at least one prominent individual formerly associated with the Trump Administration”.
“Prominent individuals” in the academic institutions, international affairs community and policy organisations were also said to have been targeted by the Chinese hacking group, known as Zirconium.
According to Microsft’s statement, the Iranian group known as Phosphorus has unsuccessfully sought to access accounts of White House officials and Mr Trump’s campaign staff between May and June of this year.
Microsoft was unable to determine the aims of the Chinese, Russian and Iranian hackers. Back in June, Google said that it had detected similar cyber-hack attempts by China and Iran.
Thea McDonald, Trump campaign deputy national press secretary, said: “We are a large target, so it is not surprising to see malicious activity directed at the campaign or our staff.”
“We have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks and we are prepared for them,” a Biden campaign official said.
The Microsoft statement comes a day after a whistleblower at the US Department of Homeland Security alleged he was put under pressure to downplay the threat of Russian interference in the US as it “made the president look bad”.
How did the Trump administration respond?
Christopher Krebs, the Department of Homeland Security’s top cyber-official, said Microsoft’s warning confirmed what the US intelligence community had already stated.
Mr Krebs said: “It is important to highlight that none [of the targets] are involved in maintaining or operating voting infrastructure and there was no identified impact on election systems.”
On Thursday, the Trump administration charged a Russian national with plotting to interfere in the US political process.
The US Department of Treasury also imposed sanctions against a Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach, who is linked with Moscow and accused of similar meddling.
Mr Derkach allegedly released edited audio that was intended to smear Democrat candidate and former VP Joe Biden. The recordings have been touted by President Trump.
Last December, the Ukrainian met the US president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
What has US intelligence said?
Last month, the US intelligence community said that Russia, China and Iran were actively trying to meddle in the forthcoming presidential election.
The assessment found that Russia was seeking to “denigrate” Joe Biden. It also found that China and Iran wanted Donald Trump to lose the vote.