Microsoft says it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting US political groups before the midterm elections. The company said a group linked to the Russian government created fake internet domains that appeared to spoof two US conservative organisations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the Senate. Microsoft did not offer any further description of the fake sites. The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led the senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is running for re-election, to reveal that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.
The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks before the 2016 presidential election, which US intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to get the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, into office by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The most recent activity, more than helping one political party over another, was “most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy”, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.
He said there was no sign the hackers were successful in persuading anyone to click on the fake websites, which could have exposed a target victim to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance and data theft. Both conservative thinktanks said they had tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their pro-democracy work had frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.
“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” the Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell said. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”