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Microsoft says discovers hacking targeting democratic institutions in Europe

Published: February 20, 2019
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Source: Reuters

Microsoft Corp on Wednesday said it had discovered hacking targeting democratic institutions, think tanks and non-profit organizations in Europe and plans to offer a cyber security service to several countries to close security gaps.

The hacks occurred between September and December 2018, targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations and European offices of The Aspen Institute and The German Marshall Fund, the company said. Microsoft said it found out about the hacks through the company’s Threat Intelligence Center and Digital Crimes Unit, and the hacks targeted 104 employee accounts in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Serbia. Hackers in most cases create malicious weblinks and spoofed email addresses that look legitimate, aiming to gain access to employee credentials and deliver malware, the company said. Strontium, one of the world’s oldest cyber espionage groups, has also been called APT 28, Fancy Bear, Sofancy and Pawn Storm by a range of security firms and government officials. 

Security firm CrowdStrike has said the group may be associated with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU. Microsoft said it will offer its cyber security service AccountGuard to 12 new markets in Europe including Germany, France and Spain to help customers secure their accounts. The AccountGuard service will also be available in Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia. Microsoft’s move highlights the growing effort by social media companies like Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc to bring more transparency around political content and advertisements, and halt the spread of misinformation on their platforms. 

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As tech companies such as Google wrestle with employee objections to working with the U.S. military, Microsoft Corp.’s president is throwing his company’s support behind the Pentagon. Microsoft is “going to provide the U.S. military with access to the best technology… all the technology we create. Full stop,” Brad Smith said Saturday during a panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

We live in such ridiculous times. The ongoing silly narrative over supposed "political bias" by tech companies is causing all sorts of stupid follow on effects. For instance, Microsoft has now asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory committee to state that offering its enhanced security features -- known as AccountGuard -- to any political campaign won't be deemed an unfair campaign contribution.

The software behemoth Microsoft Corp wants to gain an insider view on candidates and election campaigns at the federal, state and local level. The Seattle based company now offers a "special cybersecurity protection" to those candidates and campaigns that use its Office 365, Outlock or  Hotmail cloud services. Those who take up the offer will put their emails, internal strategy papers and financial records onto Microsoft owned and administrated servers where Microsoft personal will have a special eye on them. 

Microsoft is piloting an enhanced cybersecurity program aimed at providing enhanced protection for political campaigns and election authorities. Launched at the end of July and first noted by Bleeping Computer, the "AccountGuard" program is being rolled out ahead of the 2018 US midterm elections.

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