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.


UN chief warns of ‘chaotic’ world order as General Assembly opens

Updated 53 min 22 sec ago
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UN chief warns of ‘chaotic’ world order as General Assembly opens

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday opened the world's largest diplomatic gathering with a stark warning of growing chaos and confusion as the rules-based global order comes under threat of breaking down.
Addressing the opening session of the UN General Assembly, Guterres said trust in the rules-based global order and among states was "at a breaking point" and international cooperation was becoming more difficult.
"Today, world order is increasingly chaotic. Power relations are less clear," Guterres told the 193-nation assembly just minutes before President Donald Trump was to take the podium.
"Universal values are being eroded. Democratic principles are under siege."
Guterres did not single out a country for criticism, but there are fears among UN diplomats that the world is being carved up into spheres of influence and a return to great power rivalry.
Trump's administration has made clear its distrust of international treaties, having scrapped the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement and cut funding to the United Nations.
UN diplomats say the US stance has emboldened Russia and China to push their view of the global order in which human rights take a second seat to development and sovereignty rights.
"Today, with shifts in the balance of power, the risk of confrontation may increase," warned Guterres.
The human rights agenda is losing ground and "authoritarianism is on the rise," he said
Guterres urged world leaders to renew their commitment to a rules-based order, with the United Nations at its center to confront "massive, existential threats to people and planet."
"There is no way forward but collective, common-sense action for the common good," he said.
Drawing a list of global problems, Guterres acknowledged that peace efforts were failing and that respect for international humanitarian norms was unraveling.
"There is outrage at our inability to end the wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere", he said.
"The Rohingya people remain exiled, traumatized and in misery, still yearning for safety and justice."
The two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become "more and more distant" while the nuclear threat "has not eased".
Guterres zeroed in on climate change as an urgent priority, warning that if no concrete action is taken in the next two years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world risks facing runaway climate change.
"Climate change is moving faster than we are -- and its speed has provoked a sonic boom SOS across our world," he said.
About 130 world leaders are attending this year's annual session including Trump and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani who also speaks on Tuesday. France's Emmanuel Macron, a champion of multilateralism, also has his turn at the podium on Tuesday.