Microsoft has said that hackers connected to Russia, China, and Iran are trying to spy on people tied to US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
The report came as journalists were told one of Biden’s main campaign advisory companies was warned by the software giant that it was in the cross-hairs of the exact same Russian hackers that intervened in the 2016 US election.
The Microsoft statement highlights how consultants to both presidential campaigns will be at risk from electronic spies around the planet, as the two candidates face off on Nov. 3 in one of the most consequential US presidential elections in years.
The announcement by Microsoft’s vice president for client security, Tom Burt, said the group accused of breaching Hillary Clinton’s campaign Emails in 2016 – a Russian military intelligence-linked unit broadly known as ‘Fancy Bear’ – had spent the last year attempting to break into accounts belonging to political consultants serving both Republicans and Democrats and advocacy associations and think tanks.
Burt also said Chinese hackers had gone following individuals “closely associated with US presidential campaigns and candidates” – including an unnamed Biden ally who had been targeted through a private email address and “at least one prominent individual formerly associated with the Trump Administration.”
He added that Iranian hackers which Microsoft has already known publicly for attempts to spy on a US political campaign that journalists at our partner news agency Reuters identified as being Trump’s – had since attempted to log into accounts belonging to Trump administration officials and associates of the Republican president’s campaign staff.
Microsoft’s statement was planned before Reuters broke the information which Fancy Bear was imagined targeting Washington-based SKDKnickerbocker, a campaign plan and communications firm working with Biden and other prominent Democrats.
Burt didn’t name any of the political consultants involved and Microsoft declined to comment on whether SKDK was one of the advisers it had identified as goals.
Burt said the Chinese effort to undermine the Biden ally and the Iranian spying against the Trump effort were ineffective, but his website post provided no detail about the hacking effort credited to Russia or the attempt to undermine the former Trump associate.
Speaking generally, he said that overseas hacking was intensifying since the vote drew nearer.
“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,” Burt said.
The Department of Homeland Security’s leading cyber official, Christopher Krebs, said Microsoft’s warning had been consistent with earlier statements issued from the intelligence community regarding Russian, Chinese, and Iranian spying on election-related targets.
The Biden and Trump campaigns both said that they were conscious of the targeting and weren’t surprised by it.
Russian Embassy Press Secretary Nikolay Lakhonin pushed back on the allegations, saying Americans were discussing “so-called ‘interference'” for years without demonstrating what he described as”factual evidence.” Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s UN mission in New Yorksaid it was “preposterous to even think that Iran would conduct hacking.”
The Chinese Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately return messages. Beijing has previously denied allegations of cyber espionage.
State-backed hackers going after politicians in an election year is not uncommon.
“Parties and campaigns are good sources of intelligence on future policy,” said John Hultquist, an analyst in cyber security company FireEye’s Mandiant unit.
However he said he was especially concerned by the news that Fancy Bear was busy, saying the group history of draining info it hacked “raises the prospect of follow-on information operations or other devastating activity”.
The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Raphael Satter. Additional reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco and Michelle Nichols in New York. Editing by Alistair Bell, Tom Brown, Lincoln Feast and Jane Wardell.
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