US Election 2020: Russian hackers ‘ramp up attempts’ to attack Trump and Biden campaigns

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Microsoft have said that the Russian hackers who attacked the 2016 Democratic campaign are again attempting to infiltrate this year’s election. The tech giant said the activity “makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts targeting the 2020 election.”

Both the Democratic and Republican party campaigns have been targets of the hackers according to Microsoft.

Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, said in a statement: “In recent weeks, Microsoft has detected cyberattacks targeting people and organizations involved in the upcoming presidential election, including unsuccessful attacks on people associated with both the Trump and Biden campaigns, as detailed below.

“We have and will continue to defend our democracy against these attacks through notifications of such activity to impacted customers, security features in our products and services, and legal and technical disruptions.”

Scott Jaspar, lecturer in the National Security Affairs Department at the US Naval Postgraduate School, told Express.co.uk why the hackers may be trying to infiltrate the US election.

He said: “Russia attempts to weaken the United States through cyber enabled influence operations that sow discord and divide society by aggravating contentious election issues.”

Mr Jaspar, who recently wrote the book ‘Russian Cyber Operations: Coding the Boundaries of Conflict’, highlighted how foreign cyberattacks can affect the US democratic process.

He said: “A broader Russian effort to hack and potentially leak antagonistic positions from both political parties undermines US voter confidence and participation in the democratic process.”

Microsoft said Russian hackers from the group Strontium, also known as Fancy Bear, targeted more than 200 organisations.

Many of the institutions targeted are linked to both Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s election campaigns.

The Russian hacker also attacked political parties in the UK, according to Microsoft.

But the tech firm did not specify which parties were targeted in the UK.

Mr Burt said: “Similar to what we observed in 2016, Strontium is launching campaigns to harvest people’s log-in credentials or compromise their accounts, presumably to aid in intelligence gathering or disruption operations.

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“Many of Strontium’s targets in this campaign, which has affected more than 200 organizations in total, are directly or indirectly affiliated with the upcoming US election as well as political and policy-related organisations in Europe.”

Russia and China have both denied the claims made by Microsoft.

The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin has never attempted to infiltrate other countries’ elections.

An intelligence analyst at the US Department of Homeland Security revealed last week that he was pressured to downplay the threat of Russian interference in the upcoming US election.

The whistleblower Brian Murphy said he was pushed to lessen the reality of the threat as it “made the president look bad”.

Both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security have denied the claims.

Mr Jaspar said the Chief of the Intelligence Office has told Congress they will no longer be conducting in-person briefings about election security, but will instead issue written updates.

He said the US military has stepped up its actions to prevent foreign cyberattacks with a new doctrine “which includes for example a disclosure last month on Drovorub malware used by the Russian military intelligence unit in the Microsoft report”.

But Mr Jaspar warned that there are much larger risks from Russia which threaten to disrupt American society.

He said: “While Russian attempts to influence election outcomes upset political unity and violate international law, the larger risk of foreign cyberattacks in the US are in the power grid, which Russian government cyber actors successfully penetrated in 2018 to the point where they could throw switches and disrupt power flows at American electric utilities.”

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