Microsoft Reports Russian Hacking Operation, Expands Cybersecurity

Microsoft just foiled another attempt by the Russian government to meddle in the U.S. electoral process.

Last week, the tech giant says its Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) executed a court order to disrupt and transfer control of six Web domains created Strontium.

The group -- also known as Fancy Bear or APT28 -- is closely associated with the Russian government. The domains identified by Microsoft showed a broadening of entities targeted by Strontium’s activities.

One appeared to mimic the domain of the International Republican Institute, whose board includes six Republican senators and a top senatorial candidate.

Technically, Microsoft says it does not currently have evidence that the domains in question were used in any successful attacks.

Hardly a first for Microsoft, the company says it has now used this approach 12 times in two years to shut down 84 fake Web sites associated with Strontium.

Yet, the problem appears to be getting worse, according to Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president-Chief Legal Officer. “We’re concerned that these and other attempts pose security threats to a broadening array of groups connected with both American political parties in the run-up to the 2018 elections,” Smith warns in a new blog post.



As such, Microsoft is expanding its Defending Democracy program with additional cybersecurity protections.

Dubbed AccountGuard, Microsoft is offering the added security at no additional cost to candidates and campaign offices at the federal, state and local level, along with think tanks and political organizations -- as long as they already use Office 365.

Of course, Microsoft isn’t the only tech giant that has become a battleground for geopolitical warfare.

Just last month, Facebook said it shut down a coordinated campaign to sow disinformation and discord among U.S. voters. Some of the campaign’s activity was consistent with what Facebook had previously seen from the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which has well-known ties to the Kremlin.

Putting the offenders’ potential reach and influence into perspective, Facebook said just one of the implicated accounts had roughly 290,000 followers, while the network of accounts generated more than 9,500 organic posts since last March.

Even Instagram was recently hit by hackers with suspected Russian ties.

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