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Hackers never stopped meddling in US politics. They have only become smarter when it comes to covering their tracks, Microsoft researchers announced on Thursday. The attacks have only progressed since Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. The attempted hacks are now targeting both the Trump and Biden campaigns.
The 2016 presidential election revealed cybersecurity to play a major role in politics after Russian hackers stole and leaked thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Since then, government agencies like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI have stepped up their efforts to protect the polls from hackers and online disinformation.
At a press conference in August, the agencies said they had found no evidence of successful cyberattacks against electoral infrastructure, but noted that many attempts were being made on a daily basis. Microsoft’s report on Thursday gives an insight into these attempts, which allegedly came from hacking groups in Russia, China and Iran.
“Protecting our elections is a team effort in which the federal government and the private sector join forces to thwart foreign malicious actors,” Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said in a statement Thursday. Wolf said Microsoft’s announcement reiterated its statements in the latest State of the Homeland Address that hackers from China, Iran and Russia are “trying to undermine our democracy and influence our elections.”
Russian hackers have changed their tactics and are targeting more than 200 organizations in the US, including advisors tied to Republicans and Democrats, Microsoft said.
Although Russian hackers relied on spear phishing in 2016, where they sent tailored messages to trick victims into clicking malicious links, in the past few months they have used brute force attacks that flood accounts with password estimates until one of them works.
According to Microsoft, Russian hackers covered up their tracks by going through 1,000 different IP addresses and adding around 20 new ones every day.
According to Microsoft, Chinese hackers launched thousands of attacks and successfully compromised around 150 people between March and September. The nation-state hackers target people connected to presidential campaigns and made an unsuccessful attempt against people connected to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
“We are aware of reports from Microsoft that a foreign actor has unsuccessfully tried to access the non-campaign email accounts of people connected to the campaign,” the Biden campaign said. “We knew we would face such attacks from the start of our campaign and we are prepared for them. Biden for President takes cybersecurity seriously, we will remain vigilant against these threats and ensure that campaign assets are secured. “”
In contrast to the hacking efforts of the Russians, the hackers in China use known bugs on websites and target specific people for their attacks, according to Microsoft.
According to the company, Iranian hackers attempted to access accounts belonging to Trump’s campaign workers, as well as accounts belonging to Trump administration officials, between May and June.
“We’re a big target as President Trump’s re-election campaign, so it’s not surprising that malicious activity is directed against the campaign or our staff,” said Thea McDonald, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign. “We are working closely with our partners Microsoft and others to mitigate these threats. We take cybersecurity very seriously and do not publicly comment on our efforts.”
Microsoft also caught Iranian hackers who made more than 2,700 attempts to hack a presidential campaign last October, and Google found Iranian and Chinese hackers who tried to hack both presidential campaigns in June.
An August report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that Russia attempted to sabotage Biden’s election bid while China was working against the Trump campaign.
Microsoft’s announcement comes on the same day the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against three Russians for links to the country’s disinformation efforts and a Ukrainian MP for efforts to meddle in the 2020 elections.