Microsoft Corp has revealed that hackers linked to Russia's government sought to launch cyber-attacks on the U.S.Senate and conservative American think tanks, warning that Moscow is broadening attacks ahead of November's mid-term elections that will elect lawmakers to the Congress.
Acting on a court order, Microsoft said it seized control of six fake websites involved in such efforts, which also involved a site that mimicked the U.S. Senate, Microsoft president Brad Smith said in a blog post Monday.
It is the latest in a string of actions Microsoft has taken to thwart what it charges are Russian government hacking attempts. The company said it has shut down 84 fake websites in 12 court-approved actions over the past two years.
"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," Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a blog post.
Microsoft said it had no evidence that the hackers had succeeded in compromising any user credentials before it took control of the malicious sites.
The hackers were linked to the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU, Smith wrote. The idea was to have people think they were accessing links managed by these U.S. political groups but redirect them to fake ones run by the hackers so passwords and other information could be stolen.
Smith said one such site appeared to mimic that of the International Republican Institute, which promotes democratic principles and whose board includes Republican senators, among them John McCain, who have been critical of President Vladimir Putin.
Another is similar to the domain used by the Hudson Institute, which hosts prominent discussions on topics including cybersecurity. The Hudson Institute, has also examined the rise of kleptocracy, especially in Russia, and has been critical of the Russian government.
"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.
Experts said the aim was to go after anyone who opposes Putin. "This is another demonstration of the fact that the Russians aren't really pursuing partisan attacks. They are pursuing attacks that they perceive in their own national self-interest," Eric Rosenbach, the director of the Defending Digital Democracy project at Harvard University, told the New York Times.
"It's about disrupting and diminishing any group that challenges how Putin's Russia is operating at home and around the world," Rosenbach added.
The Kremlin dismissed the fresh allegations, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying he did not know "which hackers are being talked about, what influencing of elections".
"We do not understand what Russian military intelligence has to do with this. What are the basis of such serious accusations? They should not be raised without some foundation," he told journalists. (With wire inputs)