Three candidates in the 2018 midterm elections were targeted by hackers earlier this year, a Microsoft executive said on Thursday. It’s the first report of cyberattacks on the midterms.
Microsoft didn’t identify the campaigns or people that were targeted but said that none of them were ultimately breached.
“They were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint as well as an election disruption standpoint,” Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust, said during a panel discussion about election security at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
The attacks were similar to those described in last week’s indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller against 12 Russian operatives.
Burt said that earlier this year, a fake Microsoft domain was established as a landing page to be used for phishing attacks. Microsoft shut down the domain and determined, via metadata, that the phishing attacks were directed at three candidates in the midterm elections.
Phishing is the practice of gaining access to a user’s computer by getting them to change their password and capturing it, then installing spyware or malware on the computer or stealing files. It is how Russian military hackers obtained emails from the Democratic National Committee in the summer before the 2016 election.
Burt added that Microsoft’s threat-intelligence researchers are “not seeing the same level of activity by the Russian activity groups leading into the midterm elections that we could see when we look back at the 2016 elections.”
In a district court filing last month, special counsel Robert Mueller warned that Russian attempts to target the 2018 midterms were already underway.
Last week, Dan Coats, the Trump administration’s director of national intelligence, said “the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.” He compared the warning signs to those that presaged the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “It was in the months prior to September 2001 when, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet, the system is blinking red. And here we are nearly two decades later, and I’m here to say, the warning lights are blinking red again,” said Coats.