Russian hackers targeted conservative think tanks prior to midterms

Todd Singleton
August 22, 2018

Known as a "spear-phishing" attack, the fake websites noted by Microsoft attempt to persuade target victims to click on links that expose them to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance, and data theft.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov is denying the allegations and says that Microsoft's statement lacks detail and it wasn't clear "who the hackers in question are" and how they could distort the US electoral system.

The fake, lookalike websites were aimed at diverting users from the real ones in order to siphon off email and passwords, Microsoft said.

"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 wrote."In the face of this continuing activity, we must work on the assumption that these attacks will broaden further".

Jan Surotchak, Europe regional director for the International Republican Institute, blamed the Russian Federation.

The goal of this fake websites is to trick unsuspecting users into entering their credentials, which attackers could then use to mount other attacks leading up to the mid-term elections.

Microsoft said there was no evidence to suggest that the fake "domains were used in any successful attacks". Microsoft said it's sifting through evidence of the group's intentions after applying for and getting a court order to take over those domains, effectively disrupting the hacking campaign.

Other false domains were used to look like real websites used by the U.S. Senate and Microsoft's Office software, the company said.

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Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP lawmakers raise concerns over research grants to colleges with Confucius Institutes Paid family leave could give new parents a much-needed lifeline GOP looks to injure Nelson over Russia comments MORE (R-Fla.) is warning that any major group involved in American politics should prepare for potential cyberattacks amid new scrutiny of Russian efforts to target a pair of conservative groups.

International Republican Institute President Daniel Twining said Microsoft's findings are evidence of Russian meddling. "It is clearly created to sow confusion, conflict and fear among those who criticize Mr. Putin's authoritarian regime". The group has previously been accused of hacking Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails in the 2016 campaign and, many believe, tried to directly interfere with the Presidential elections on behalf of the Russian government.

"We don't understand, and there is no information, so we treat such allegations accordingly", Peskov also said.

The phony websites, which were registered with major web-hosting companies, were at,,,, and, according to Microsoft.

"We're glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors", said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell.

Luckily for Microsoft, the company could also used the very unfortunate hacking incident to advertise its new "AccountGuard" software, which it plans to offer to congressional candidates and campaigns free of charge as part of its "Defending Democracy Program". "There is an asymmetric risk here for democratic societies".

"For many decades, people in democratic societies saw these as fundamentally tools that were more likely to bring information to people living in authoritarian countries, and we didn't really worry about these kinds of technologies causing risks to a democratic society", Smith said.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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