Microsoft: Iranian Hackers Targeted Presidential Campaign

(Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Hackers believed to be linked to Iran’s government have attempted to breach hundreds of email accounts associated with journalists, government officials, and a U.S. presidential campaign, Microsoft said Friday.

Microsoft said it has noticed “significant cyber activity” by a threat group the company believes “originates from Iran and is linked to the Iranian government,” according to a statement from Tom Burt, Microsoft’s vice president of customer security and trust.

The alleged Iranian government group targeted accounts belonging to an American presidential campaign, U.S. government officials, journalists covering international politics, and prominent Iranians living outside of the country. Microsoft did not reveal which presidential campaign was targeted.

During 30 days between August and September, Microsoft detected more than 2,700 attempts by a group known as Phosphorus to identify specific Microsoft email accounts. The group attacked 241 of those accounts and successfully compromised four of them. The compromised accounts were not ones associated with a U.S. presidential campaign or current and former government officials, according to the company.

During the 2016 election cycle, Russian national hackers obtained thousands of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“While the attacks we’re disclosing today were not technically sophisticated, they attempted to use a significant amount of personal information both to identify the accounts belonging to their intended targets and in a few cases to attempt attacks,” Burt said. “This effort suggests Phosphorous is highly motivated and willing to invest significant time and resources engaging in research and other means of information gathering.”

Companies with products requiring cybersecurity, such as social media platforms, have come under pressure since the 2016 election to strengthen security measures and practice greater transparency after some became breeding grounds for misinformation campaigns, and some users’ data was stolen.

“It is important that we all – governments and private sector – are increasingly transparent about nation-state attacks and efforts to disrupt democratic processes,” Microsoft said.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats have both warned that future election meddling from foreign governments is imminent, including from Iran and China.

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