Six websites set up by a hacker group associated with Russian intelligence were shut down by Microsoft following allegations that it tried to hack the U.S. elections.
In an announcement released by Microsoft, the tech giant claimed that it had executed a court order to take down six websites created by a group with connections to Russian intelligence. Apparently, the websites were used to infiltrate the U.S. Senate and conservative U.S. institutions, as well as Microsoft.
“It’s clear that democracies around the world are under attack. Foreign entities are launching cyber strikes to disrupt elections and sow discord,” Brad Smith, Microsoft CEO, wrote.
“Unfortunately, the internet has become an avenue for some governments to steal and leak information, spread disinformation, and probe and potentially attempt to tamper with voting systems. We saw this during the United States general election in 2016, last May during the French presidential election, and now in a broadening way as Americans are preparing for the November midterm elections.”
According to Smith, Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) had successfully executed a court order to “disrupt and transfer control” of the six internet domains created by the Russian group Strontium, also known as Fancy Bear or APT28.
The same approach was reportedly used by Microsoft 12 times in the past two years to shut down 84 fake websites connected with the same hacker group. It was said that the cyber attackers wanted to make their hacking campaigns to look as realistic as possible, creating websites and URLs that resemble the sites that they are targeting.
The tactic aims to trick people into thinking that they are clicking the sites run by some prominent U.S. institutions like the non-profit pro-democracy group International Republican Institute and conservative Washington think tank Hudson Institute.
“We’re concerned that these and other attempts pose security threats to a broadening array of groups connected with both American political parties in the run-up to the 2018 elections,” Smith added.
“That’s why today we are expanding Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program with a new initiative called Microsoft AccountGuard. This initiative will provide state-of-the-art cybersecurity protection at no extra cost to all candidates and campaign offices at the federal, state and local level, as well as think tanks and political organizations we now believe are under attack.”
According to Microsoft, their latest cybersecurity technology is free of charge to all candidates, campaigns, and related political institutions using their Office 365 package.