More than 30 rescued in Afghan raid on Taliban prison

Afghan Local Police (ALP) officers stand at a checkpoint in Helmand on November 14, 2017. Dozens of Afghan police and soldiers have been killed in a wave of Taliban attacks on checkpoints in Afghanistan. (AFP)
Updated 19 November 2017
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More than 30 rescued in Afghan raid on Taliban prison

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan: Afghan and foreign special forces raided a Taliban prison in southern Helmand province on Sunday and rescued at least 30 people, according to army and provincial officials.
Those rescued in the raid in Helmand’s Nawzad district included four children under the age of 12 and two policemen, the officials said. Twenty of the people had been arrested by the Taliban in connection with helping the government or were family members of Afghan army and police.
The reasons for the jailing of six of those rescued was still being investigated, said Abdul Qadir Bahadurzai, a deputy spokesman for the army’s 215th Maiwand military corps.
The Taliban said in a statement that the people rescued were criminals accused of robbery, kidnapping, personal disputes and other crimes and were awaiting trial.
“There wasn’t anyone belonging to the enemy in that prison and there wasn’t enough security for it,” Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said in the statement.


Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

Updated 18 min 57 sec ago
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Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

  • The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election
  • The company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations

Microsoft said Tuesday it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting US political groups ahead of the midterm elections.
The company said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake Internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the US Senate.
Microsoft didn’t offer any further description of the fake sites.
The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Sen. 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 ahead of the 2016 election, which US intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to elect Republican Donald Trump to the presidency by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
This time, more than helping one political party over another, “this activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.
Smith said there is 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 think tanks said they have tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their global pro-democracy work has frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.
“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”
The International Republican Institute is led by a board that includes six Republican senators, and one prominent Russia critic and Senate hopeful, Mitt Romney, who is running for a Utah seat this fall.
Microsoft calls the hacking group Strontium; others call it Fancy Bear or APT28. An indictment from US special counsel Robert Mueller has tied it to Russian’s main intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and to the 2016 email hacking of both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
“We have no doubt in our minds” who is responsible, Smith said.
Microsoft has waged a legal battle with Strontium since suing it in a Virginia federal court in summer 2016. The company obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the group. It has so far used the courts to shut down 84 fake websites created by the group, including the most recent six announced Tuesday.
Microsoft has argued in court that by setting up fake but realistic-looking domains, the hackers were misusing Microsoft trademarks and services to hack into targeted computer networks, install malware and steal sensitive emails and other data.
Smith also announced Tuesday that the company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations, at least so long as they’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software. Facebook and Google have also promoted similar tools to combat campaign interference.