The Russian hacking unit that tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election has been targeting conservative U.S. think tanks, Microsoft said.
Acting on a court order, the company last week seized control of six fake websites involved in such efforts, which also involved a site that mimicked the U.S. Senate, Microsoft president Brad Smith said in a blog post on Monday.
The hackers were linked to the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU, Smith wrote.
The idea was to have people think they were accessing links managed by these U.S. political groups but redirect them to fake ones run by the hackers so passwords and other information could be stolen.
Smith said one such site appeared to mimic that of the International Republican Institute, which promotes democratic principles and whose board includes Republican senators, among them John McCain, who have been critical of President Vladimir Putin.
Another is similar to the domain used by the Hudson Institute, which hosts prominent discussions on topics including cybersecurity.
It seems to me that headlines should highlight that these are anti-Putin and Trump-skeptical Republicans. Russia is *not* going after Trump supporters https://t.co/jWn3RUWLYf
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) August 21, 2018
“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 wrote.
Experts said the aim was to go after anyone who opposes Putin.
“This is another demonstration of the fact that the Russians aren’t really pursuing partisan attacks. They are pursuing attacks that they perceive in their own national self-interest,” Eric Rosenbach, the director of the Defending Digital Democracy project at Harvard University, told the New York Times.
“It’s about disrupting and diminishing any group that challenges how Putin’s Russia is operating at home and around the world,” Rosenbach added.
The Kremlin dismissed the fresh allegations, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying he did not know “which hackers are being talked about, what influencing of elections”.
“We do not understand what Russian military intelligence has to do with this. What are the basis of such serious accusations? They should not be raised without some foundation,” he told journalists.
LIVE: Microsoft's Brad Smith discusses the company's discovery of Russian hacking efforts ahead of the U.S. midterm elections with @emilychangtv. Watch ➡️https://t.co/EYmHTvsTvD pic.twitter.com/8ftb73Q8Xn
— Bloomberg TV (@BloombergTV) August 21, 2018