Microsoft claims new evidence Russia tried to hack U.S. politics

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Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday that it executed a court order to shut down six websites created by a group tied to Russian intelligence that sought to spoof conservative U.S. institutions, the U.S. Senate and Microsoft itself.

The fake sites were intended to trick users into thinking they were clicking on sites run by the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, and the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit pro-democracy group whose board includes numerous prominent Republican figures, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf.

The FBI said it had no immediate comment on the Microsoft order or whether it might be connected to the Justice Department’s investigation of alleged Russian hacking.

Microsoft released the report at midnight, and the Hudson Institute didn’t answer a telephone call seeking comment.

Daniel Twining, president of the International Republican Institute, blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This apparent spear-phishing attempt against the International Republican Institute and other organizations is consistent with the campaign of meddling that the Kremlin has waged against organizations that support democracy and human rights,” Twining told The Washington Post. “It is clearly designed to sow confusion, conflict and fear among those who criticize Mr. Putin’s authoritarian regime.”

Other sites appeared to spoof the U.S. Senate, and one posed as a site for Microsoft’s Office software program, Microsoft said, which said its Digital Crimes Unit intercepted the sites before they were “used in any successful attacks.”

Microsoft said it has now gone to court to win control of suspicious web domains 12 times in two years “to shut down 84 fake websites associated with this group,” which is variously known as Strontium, Fancy Bear and APT28.

In a memorandum filed early in the case, Microsoft said the group sought to “establish a command and control infrastructure by which means Defendants conduct illegal activities, including attacks on computers and networks, monitoring of the activities of users, and the theft of information.”

Under the name Fancy Bear, the group was named in special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials last month for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. The indictment specifically said the group comprises two units of the main Russian foreign intelligence service, formerly known as the GRU.

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