Russian hackers targeting conservative think tanks and political campaigns, Microsoft says

Software giant Microsoft has alleged that Russian hackers have been targeting conservative think tanks in the US. The claims come as the US prepares for the mid-term elections, the first such round since Donald Trump was elected President in 2016.

In addition to the general attacks that would be waged against the US, hackers have also been targeting two specific think tanks; Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. According to Microsoft, hackers belonging to a group called Strontium were able to simulate the websites in an attack similar to the one hatched against the DNC in 2016 during the presidential elections. That attack had been accepted as having Russian government meddling by the US’s top intelligence chiefs though President Trump continues to waver and doubt the intelligence assessment.

On the company’s blog, Microsoft President Brad Smith said that “Broadening cyberthreats to both U.S. political parties make clear that the tech sector will need to do more to help protect the democratic process.”

With the assistance of a court order, Microsoft were able to retake six domains that had been created by Strontium and the company will be looking to bolster cybersecurity reserves prior to the mid-term elections by way of a new initiative called Microsoft AccountGuard, which will allow candidates free access to protection from cyberattacks.

“In the face of this continuing activity, we must work on the assumption that these attacks will broaden further. An effective response will require even more work to bring people and expertise together from across governments, political parties, campaigns and the tech sector.” Microsoft’s Smith said.

The attacks on Western democracy via hacking hasn’t been restricted to the US, with the EU also showing concern about future infiltrations. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for new sanctions and measures against Russia for their actions in Crimea and their continued attempts to undermine electoral practices on the continent. “Today the United Kingdom asks its allies to go further by calling on the European Union to ensure its sanctions against Russia are comprehensive, and that we truly stand shoulder to shoulder with the US,” Hunt will purportedly tell a US audience, according to reporting from The Guardian.

The US midterm elections will meanwhile be hotly anticipated given the possibility for the balance of congressional power to tip in favour of the Democrats. The Democratic party will need 23 seats to have the House in their favour and many crucial districts are in play across the country. The Senate on the other hand is expected to stay in Republican control despite growing agitation towards Trump’s policies.

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