Microsoft has disclosed that hackers linked to Russia, China, and Iran have attempted to hack organizations related to the upcoming 2020 presidential election. The disclosure sheds more light on how foreign hackers have tried to influence the 2020 election, according to Microsoft.
Cybersecurity officials have acknowledged the attempts to compromise the email accounts of individuals and organizations associated with the upcoming election but downplayed any claim that the election system has been affected.
Chris Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said that “It’s important to highlight that none are involved in maintaining or operating voting infrastructure, and there was no identified impact on election systems.”
Russia Attempts to Influence Voters From the Left and Right
Microsoft said the same Russian hackers that were behind the attacks on the Democratic presidential campaign in 2016 had begun to target state and national parties in the US, as well as consultants that work for both the Democrats and Republicans. Microsoft said that the attacks were more advanced than the ones from 2016 and likely included automatic “brute force” attacks.
The report from Microsoft said that the Russian group targeted over 200 organizations, most of which were directly or indirectly affiliated with the election. Some of the groups also had connections to political organizations in Europe.
Microsoft didn’t disclose how many organizations were targeted by the Chinese and Iranian groups. The company did see attacks on campaign staffers and candidates, but also against people they consulted with.
In the statement released on Thursday, Krebs said that the announcement was “consistent with earlier statements by the Intelligence Community on a range of malicious cyber activities targeting the 202 campaign and reinforces that this is an all-of-nation effort to defend democracy.”
Are Other State-Actors Involved
The recent disclosure gives us a look at how the foreign activity is influencing the election, which is important to keep in mind as November approaches. There was a similar report released just last month that outlined the potential threat of these three countries.
US intelligence officials have admitted to finding evidence Russia is influencing the election by working against Biden. Other evidence had already emerged that Russia was attempting to influence the election, including an announcement by Facebook that a troll group linked to the tampering in the 2016 campaign was targeting Americans again.
While intelligence experts believe that China and Iran would benefit from Trump losing, officials haven’t offered any indication that these countries are acting on their preference and actively interfering like Russia is.
This hasn’t stopped President Trump and his top security officials from warning voters about China ahead of the election as they continue to downplay the potential for Russian interference.
It’s important to note that the report from Microsoft isn’t the only known example of foreign interference with American politics. Google released a statement in June that they had found campaigns originating from China and Iran.
Fancy Bear and the 2016 US Elections
The Russian military intelligence hacking group “Fancy Bear” – the team behind the attack on the Democrats in 2016 – targeted consultants working with both the Democrats and Republications, national and state party organizations across the country, and think tanks including the German Marshall Fund of America.
The German Marshall Fund responded by saying there was no evidence these attacks had succeeded.
Fancy Bear, also known as Strontium, have changed their tactics since their 2016 interference. Microsoft says the group is now using brute force attacks and password spray as opposed to their standard spear phishing attacks.
The Russian government continues to deny any attempt to interfere with the 2016 election, as well as denying any attempts to influence the upcoming 2020 election.