Russian hackers stepping up attacks on US election, says Microsoft

10 September 2020, 20:48 | Updated: 10 September 2020, 22:52

Hackers have made thousands of attempts to breach the election, Microsoft said
Hackers have made thousands of attempts to breach the election, Microsoft said. Picture: AP

By Ewan Somerville

Hackers tied to Russia, China and Iran have stepped up cyber attacks on the Democrat and Republican US presidential campaigns, Microsoft has found.

The revelations were made in a blog post by Tom Burt, the tech giant's corporate vice president for customer security and trust, summarising the findings of a Microsoft investigation.

One of the groups unsuccessfully trying to infiltrate the presidential election is Strontium, the Russian hackers named in the landmark Mueller report as the leader of attacks on Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016.

Meanwhile, Chinese cyber group Zirconium has made thousands of attacks, including on email accounts linked to Joe Biden's Democrat campaign and "high-profile individuals associated with the election", between March and September 2020.

Iranian group Phosphorus tried to log into the accounts for Donald Trump's presidential campaign staff between May and June 2020.

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Microsoft said: "The activity we are announcing today makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts targeting the 2020 election as had been anticipated."

Mr Burt added: "In recent weeks, Microsoft has detected cyberattacks targeting people and organisations involved in the upcoming presidential election, including unsuccessful attacks on people associated with both the Trump and Biden campaigns."

Most of the infiltration attempts by Russian, Chinese and Iranian agents were halted by Microsoft security software and the targets notified, he said.

The company would not comment on who may have been successfully hacked or the impact.

The investigation found Russian group Strontium has targeted more than 200 organisations during the campaign so far, either directly or indirectly linked with the election.

These include US-based consultants serving Republicans and Democrats, think tanks and advocacy organisations, national and state party organisations in the US and political parties in the UK.

"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," said Mr Burt.

US government officials have made similar findings. In August, William Evanina, head of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said Russia, China and Iran are trying to “use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway US voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift US policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process.”

On Wednesday, Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said “the governments of China, Iran and Russia target our election systems, each with its own separate and nefarious motives and tactics".