Tech giant Microsoft confirmed on Tuesday that it has executed a court order to close down at least six websites linked to a hacking campaign by Russian intelligence. The hack was targeting right-wing think tanks, government institutions and Microsoft itself. The fake sites were built to trick unsuspecting users into believe they were logging in on websites owned by the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington D.C. as well as the International Republican Institute, another right-wing nonprofit designed for the promotion of democracy.
Despite this, the FBI released a statement saying that it won’t comment on whether these latest hacking attempts were in any way linked to the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling on the US election. The hack has largely been blamed on Vladimir Putin. The president of the International Republican Institute said that the campaign was very consistent with the meddling campaign spearheaded by the Kremlin under the direct supervision of the Russian president. Russian authorities denied the allegations as usual. The Kremlin said that it had no idea what this was about arguing that no evidence was presented to link Russia to the hacks.
Nonetheless, Microsoft said that the attacks were detected well in time. The Digital Crimes Unit was able to stop them before they were successful. The American tech company also revealed that over the last 24 months it has sought 12 court orders to shut down suspicious websites. The company confirmed that so far it has shut down 84 fake websites associated with the Russian hacking campaign. The campaign has been largely spearheaded by a group calling itself “Fancy Bear.” The group was blamed for the meddling that took place during the 2016 election and was also mentioned during the indictment of 12 Russian operatives by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Microsoft expressed its concerns that in the recent months, attacks targeting US political figures, political groups, and elected officials were growing across the entire political spectrum of the United States. The company said that this kind of pattern closely mirrors the type of activity that we saw on the run-up to the 2016 election for which the Russians have been accused of gross interference in US democracy. According to many media reports, at least three candidates seeking re-election in the midterms were also targeted by these phishing attacks.
The Trump administration has said categorically over the last few months that Russian meddling into the upcoming midterms won’t be allowed. But president Trump has always maintained that there was never any Russian meddling into the last general election calling the ongoing probe by Robert Mueller the “greatest witch hunt in America’s history.” Trump also failed to acknowledge Russian involvement in the 2016 general election after meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Instead, the president laid the blame squarely on US intelligence agencies. The move drew massive backlash from lawmakers across the divide. However, the president issued a statement later saying that he had been misquoted. Despite all this, the Russian threat is real and may as well be felt in the upcoming midterms.