Hackers From China, Russia, Iran Targeting US Election: Microsoft

September 10, 2020 Updated: September 10, 2020

Microsoft said Thursday that hackers working for China, Russia, and Iran have recently ramped up their attacks, targeting the U.S. election as Election Day approaches.

Tom Burt, the firm’s vice president of customer security and trust, wrote that there has been an increase in hackers going after both presidential candidates.

“In recent weeks, Microsoft has detected cyberattacks targeting people and organizations involved in the upcoming Presidential election,” Burt said in a blog post, noting that it “makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts targeting the 2020 election.”

Microsoft said that the Russian group targeted more than 200 organizations, and many “are directly or indirectly affiliated with the upcoming U.S. election as well as political and policy-related organizations in Europe.”

It didn’t say how many hacker groups were affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or Iranian regime.

Chinese hackers targeted Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign and a person who was formerly involved with President Donald Trump’s administration, the firm said. Iranian hackers, meanwhile, attempted to log into the accounts of Trump administration staff and Trump campaign staff.

“What we’ve seen is consistent with previous attack patterns that not only target candidates and campaign staffers but also those who they consult on key issues,” Microsoft said.

Chinese hackers have launched thousands of attacks and successfully compromised about 150 people between March and September of this year, said Microsoft. The hackers have used known bugs on websites and target specific individuals, the firm added.

“As President Trump’s re-election campaign, we are a large target, so it is not surprising to see malicious activity directed at the campaign or our staff,” said Trump campaign’s deputy national press secretary Thea McDonald in a statement to news outlets. “We work closely with our partners, Microsoft and others, to mitigate these threats. We take cybersecurity very seriously and do not publicly comment on our efforts.”

Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign said that “we have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks and we are prepared for them.”

The company, which has extraordinary visibility on digital threats via its widely used Windows operating system and cloud services such as Office 365, has taken an increasingly active role in calling out state-backed cyberespionage. In 2018, the company launched its Defending Democracy initiative, aimed in part at safeguarding campaigns from hackers.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the allegations from Microsoft as “nonsense.”

Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report saying that China may pose a greater threat than Russia in 2020.

“At this time, we’re primarily concerned with China, Russia, and Iran—although other nation states and non-state actors could also do harm to our electoral process,” William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), said in a statement in July.

Evanina placed China on top of the list of threats, noting that the regime is attempting to counter criticism of the CCP and shape policy in the United States.

Reuters contributed to this report.