US crackdown on political cyber interference nets Russians, Ukrainians

Microsoft thwarts Russian, Chinese, Iranian hacks into US campaigns
Getty Cyberattacks
(Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKBT) — Three actions this week revived the specter of foreign interference in U.S. elections, with main players including Russians, Ukrainians and Microsoft:
• The Trump administration charged a Russian national Thursday in a widespread plot to sow distrust in the American political process.
• The government imposed sanctions Thursday against a Ukrainian lawmaker accused of interfering in the U.S. presidential election in November.
• And Microsoft revealed that hacking attempts targeted the campaigns of President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. The alleged hackers were based in Russia, China and Iran, said Microsoft, which announced that it blocked the effort.
The actions underscore the fact that foreign influence and cyber intrusions that defined the 2016 White House race remain a major concern today — regardless of whether everyone acknowledges them.
Officials are taking aim at Russian interference in the political process even as Trump continues to express doubt about Russian meddling, affirming his oft-stated belief that Russian President Vladimir has denied doing so and discounting U.S. intel reports.
The criminal charges accuse Russian Artem Mikhaylovich Lifshits of stealing American identities to open fraudulent banking accounts and advance messages undermining people’s confidence in their political system.
Lifshifts is one of four people the Treasury Department accused, along with Andrii Derkach, a Russian-linked Ukrainian lawmaker, of interfering in the Nov. 3 election by releasing edited audio recordings designed to denigrate Biden.
This is the second time in as many months that the administration has called out Derkach. U.S. intelligence officials said last month that his disclosure of the recordings of conversations between Biden and Ukraine’s then-president, were part of a broader Russian effort to disparage Biden before the Nov. 3 election.
The administration’s move was especially notable because it said Derkach’s recordings advance anti-Biden claims that rely on “false and unsubstantiated narratives.” Trump has promoted those recordings by retweeting posts that include them.
“Derkach almost certainly targeted the U.S. voting populace, prominent U.S. persons, and members of the U.S. government, based on his reliance on U.S. platforms, English-language documents and videos, and pro-Russian lobbyists in the United States used to propagate his claims,” the Treasury Department said in citing Derkach and three other Russia-linked individuals under an executive order designed to target election interference.
Derkach is a graduate of a Russian spy academy who maintains close ties to Russian intelligence services, the Treasury Department says.
The other three people who were sanctioned are connected to the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm that U.S. officials have said interfered in the 2016 election by sowing discord and spreading misinformation through bogus social media accounts.
Microsoft says state-backed hackers have stepped up targeting of U.S. political campaigns and related groups
The same Russian military intelligence outfit that hacked the Democrats in 2016 has tried to break into more than 200 organizations, including political parties and consultants, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft software halted most of the infiltration attempts by Russian, Chinese and Iranian agents, and the targets were notified, company Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post.
The company declined comment on who might have been hacked successfully or the impact.