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Microsoft Stops Russian Hackers Targeting GOP

(Image credit: Microsoft)

U.S. intelligence agencies have continuously blamed Russia for hacking the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. Most of those hacks targeted Democrats, but now Microsoft said it has evidence that Russia is going after Republican-affiliated think tanks ahead of this year's midterm elections, which supports the idea that Russian hackers are supporting Trump specifically rather than backing the GOP and its allies.

Microsoft said it recently discovered six domains created by Strontium, a hacking group with connections to Russian intelligence agencies, with clear similarities to domains used by the Hudson Institute and International Republican Institute. Several of the domains also faked a vague connection to the U.S. Senate. The company's Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) assumed control over the domains in a bid to prevent their misuse.

The New York Times reported that Strontium hackers planned to use the domains to set up dummy websites that could steal account information from people trying to access their accounts with the Hudson Institute and IRI. (Microsoft's report on its discovery is more vague about what the hackers planned to use the domains for.)

Here's what Microsoft said to summarize its worries about this latest discovery:

"Despite last week’s steps, 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. 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."

To combat those efforts, the company is expanding its Defending Democracy Program with the Microsoft AccountGuard Initiative. AccountGuard is supposed to analyze threats across personal and professional email accounts;  offer "officials, campaigns, and related political organizations" guidance on how to "make their networks and email systems more secure"; and "provide preview releases of new security features."

You can learn more about the Microsoft AccountGuard Initiative in the company's blog post about it. But the gist is that Microsoft will more proactively monitor politically affiliated people and organizations while also educating them on security best practices. Most of these folks aren't going to become security experts, but at least they should prove harder to hack than they would've been without programs like Microsoft's.

Microsoft explained why that matters in its blog post:

"We can only keep our democratic societies secure if candidates can run campaigns and voters can go to the polls untainted by foreign cyberattacks. [...] Democracy requires vigilance and at times action by citizens to protect and maintain it. No individual or company can hope to meet this imperative by itself. We all need to do our part. We’re committed to doing our part by helping to protect candidates and campaigns in preserving their voices and votes no matter what party they support."

  • Starkman
    Wow! Just when the Russian-collusion (not) scandal needs a new shot of adrenaline! Leave it to Microsoft: the premier intelligence agency to have discovered this.
    Yeah, right!
    Reply
  • JamesSneed
    21251486 said:
    Wow! Just when the Russian-collusion (not) scandal needs a new shot of adrenaline! Leave it to Microsoft: the premier intelligence agency to have discovered this.
    Yeah, right!

    I get the sarcasm as it is Microsoft but so many companies have found various forms of Russian hacking. Oddly our president has made the whole issue about him since day one instead of about Russian interference. You know the whole "no collusion" saying even way before anyone even thought there may have been any collusion people were just irritated a government messed with our democracy. That I have never understood and in fact he likely wouldn't be having so much grief if he would have went all in with investigating this whole issue. It has been proven that Russians were/are hacking our political system by spreading FUD and actual targeted attacks.
    Reply
  • ssdpro
    The problem is figuring out why Russia always supports and takes steps to help Trump. If they attack the dems to help Trump that could mean anything. Now attacking Republican groups that also oppose Trump, it shows a common denominator - Trump. Why would Russia oppose anyone that opposes Trump? Other than destabilization I don't see what Trump has done as far as action that actually benefits Russia. Destabilization is very long term, you have to be prepared for a long, slow process.
    Reply
  • aj.prolific0ne
    The list is long but i'll keep it to just the things Trump has done, said or tried to do, that are verified and true. Actually, just go here:

    https://www.axios.com/trump-russia-mueller-investigation-michael-cohen-paul-manafort-bcfe40c6-7592-4347-a6be-20ff562058f0.html
    Reply
  • Ilya__
    21251486 said:
    Wow! Just when the Russian-collusion (not) scandal needs a new shot of adrenaline! Leave it to Microsoft: the premier intelligence agency to have discovered this.
    Yeah, right!

    As somebody who has been fighting hackers all their existence, Microsoft is quite well equipped in this field.
    Reply
  • Solandri
    21251664 said:
    The problem is figuring out why Russia always supports and takes steps to help Trump. If they attack the dems to help Trump that could mean anything. Now attacking Republican groups that also oppose Trump, it shows a common denominator - Trump. Why would Russia oppose anyone that opposes Trump?
    I don't get why people think this is a mystery. Trump likes Russia and is not hostile to Putin. So it's not at all surprising that the more nefarious Russian elements would try to support him. Lots of Europeans supported Obama in 2008 for the same reason, and their social media posts that were pro-Democrat, anti-Republican were everywhere. Still are in fact. But for some reason the media only makes it out to be a problem when Russians do it in support of Trump. News flash - people try to support people who like them.

    I mean think about it seriously for a moment. More than half the world's population has Internet access. i.e. For each individual American who voted in the 2016 election, there were 28 foreigners on the Internet. There is absolutely no way you're realistically going to prevent non-Americans from influencing American voters via social media. You're deluding yourself if you think the Russian support of Trump is somehow the exception, rather than the norm. The fundamental tenet of Democracy is that you trust The People to make the right decision, even if a certain percentage of them are idiots who'll believe everything they read. if you don't trust The People as a whole to filter out bad info and make the right decision on their own, then you're basically admitting Democracy doesn't work. And we should just scrap the whole thing and come up with a different form of government.

    And no I didn't vote for Trump. I think he's a terrible President. But I know selection bias when I see it. If you only look for roaches in one neighbor's house, you will only find roaches in that neighbor's house. That doesn't mean other houses are roach-free. For all you know, the one neighbor whose house you searched may in fact have the fewest roaches, and you just don't know that because you didn't put as much effort into searching other houses as you did his. Trump is correct about one thing - this is exactly how witch hunts were carried out in medieval times. Someone started a rumor with maybe a kernel of truth, and the extra scrutiny of only the supposed witch is what led to the aggregation of a large amount of evidence against the person, not the fact that they were more guilty than any other random person.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selection_bias
    Reply