Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

Microsoft said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake Internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations. (AP)
Updated 21 August 2018
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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.


Multiple victims after shots fired at Chicago hospital: Police

“one possible offender” had been shot. (AP)
Updated 24 min 45 sec ago
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Multiple victims after shots fired at Chicago hospital: Police

CHICAGO: A gunman opened fire Monday at a hospital in the US city of Chicago, police said, adding that there were reports of “multiple victims” including a wounded officer in “critical condition.”
“Reports of shots fired in the vicinity of 26th and Michigan near Mercy Hospital. Avoid area. Heavy police response incoming,” Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted.
At least “one possible offender” had been shot and there were “multiple” other victims, he added.
“A #ChicagoPolice officer has been shot in the active shooter incident at Mercy Hospital. He is in critical condition but receiving excellent care. Please send your prayers,” Guglielmi later added.
TV footage showed people filing out of the hospital into a parking lot with their hands in the air.
“We were going about our business and waiting for our results and then I heard shots fired,” an unnamed witness told the local CBS affiliate.
“I turned around to my right and I see a man shooting someone on the ground, shot him multiple times.
“And then almost immediately an officer was already coming in an SUV and he exchanged fire at them and then reloaded and shot the person on the ground again and then he made his way into the hospital and more shots were fired.”
The shooting came less than two weeks after a gunman killed 12 people in a California music bar packed with college students.
That rampage followed the worst anti-Semitic attack in modern US history, when a gunman opened fire on worshipers at a synagogue in the US city of Pittsburgh on October 27.
The incidents have added to the growing outcry over gun safety in the United States, where there have been more than 300 mass shootings this year.
A hospital employee quoted by the Chicago Tribune said she was in her office when a notice came over a public address system telling those in the hospital to lock their doors.
“I don’t know what happened,” the unnamed employee told the Tribune.
“They told us to run, so we did.”