Microsoft: Trump and Biden targeted by overseas government hackers

US Election

Governments in Russia, Iran and China are trying to hack into both Democrats and Republicans in the US election presidential race. According to Microsoft, these countries are using more sophisticated techniques.

The tech company said in a blog that both US President Donald Trump and his opponent, the Democratic Party’s Joe Biden have been unsuccessfully attacked.

“The activity we are announcing today makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts targeting the 2020 election as had been anticipated, and is consistent with what the US government and others have reported. We also report here on attacks against other institutions and enterprises worldwide that reflect similar adversary activity,” Microsoft said.

“What we’ve seen is consistent with previous attack patterns that not only target candidates and campaign staffers but also those they consult on key issues. These activities highlight the need for people and organisations involved in the political process to take advantage of free and low-cost security tools to protect themselves as we get closer to election day.”

Microsoft detailed that the Joe Biden for President campaign had been under attack from Zirconium, operating from China. Phosphorus, operating from Iran, has continued to attack the personal accounts of people associated with Donald Trump’s presidency campaign.

Microsoft said a Russian intelligence unit that the US has blamed for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee had been highly active since September 2019, and was using more complex methods than it did four years ago. Microsoft said its investigation found attacks on US-based consultants serving both parties and that the unit had used “new reconnaissance tools and new techniques to obfuscate their operations”. 

The announcement followed warnings in recent weeks by Trump administration officials that foreign agencies were seeking to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

In August, a top US intelligence official said China had preferred that Trump lose his bid for re-election in November. However, Microsoft said a Chinese group called Zirconium had targeted Biden’s campaign through the personal email accounts of people associated with his election bid. An unnamed “prominent individual” formerly associated with Mr Trump’s administration was also targeted by the Chinese group, Microsoft said.

Thea McDonald, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said: “We work closely with our partners, Microsoft and others, to mitigate these threats. We take cyber security very seriously and do not publicly comment on our efforts.”

Earlier on Thursday, the US Department of Justice indicted a Russian national who was allegedly involved in US election deception on charges that he sought to steal the identities of Americans in order to open bank and cryptocurrency accounts in their names. The Treasury department also imposed sanctions on a Ukrainian politician who has worked with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to source and publish potentially damaging information about Biden. Treasury said the politician was “an active Russian agent”.

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