Conservative Think Tanks Are The Latest Target Of Russian Hackers

The Russians are not coming.

They are already here.

Weeks ago, Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned that almost two decades since the September 11, 2001 attacks, “warning lights are blinking red again” for a devastating cyber assault on critical U.S. infrastructure.

Six months ago, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) head of cybersecurity, Jeanette Manfra, confirmed Russia officially penetrated several states’ voter rolls during the 2016 election.

Two weeks ago, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the Armed Services subcommittee on cybersecurity, informed the Tampa Bay Times Russia may have already infiltrated some voter registration systems in his state, ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Today we learn Russian hackers responsible for infiltrating the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s presidential election campaign have been initiating attacks against two conservative think tanks, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft reports a group called “Strontium,” aka “Fancy Bear” and “APT28,” created phony websites meant to appear as though they were from the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute, both united against Donald Trump.

Microsoft president, Brad Smith, said about the discovery:

“We’re concerned that these and other attempts pose security threats to a broadening array of groups connected with both American political parties in the run-up to the 2018 elections.”

As to who was responsible for the hacking, Smith said:

“We have no doubt in our minds.”

According to Microsoft, Strontium mimicked the right-wing organizations’ login pages for email, calendars, and document sharing, with web addresses like “” and “”

Someone caught unaware would possibly be tricked into inputting his or her username and password, allowing an attacker to access personal data.

This recent revelation comes just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) to reveal Russian hackers unsuccessfully attempted to infiltrate her office’s computer network.

Last October, news broke about evidence confirming Russian buyers used Facebook advertising as propaganda leading up to the election, prompting the House Intelligence Committee in November to release a sample of Facebook ads the Russian government-affiliated Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg troll farm, purchased about issues like immigration, religion, and race, for and against presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump.

Last month we learned Facebook has uncovered another coordinated disinformation campaign involving 32 faux users’ pages and profiles, specifically eight pages, 17 profiles, and seven Instagram accounts that were created between March 2017 and May 2018, again attempting to sow discord between users.

Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, commented:

“These bad actors have been more careful to cover their tracks, in part due to the actions we’ve taken to prevent abuse over the past year.”
He added:

“We know that Russians and other bad actors are going to continue to try to abuse our platform — before the midterms, probably during the midterms, after the midterms, and around other events and elections. We are continually looking for that type of activity, and as and when we find things, which we think is inevitable, we’ll notify law enforcement, and where we can, the public.”

What is our government doing to prevent another 2016-style infiltration?

In March, the United States imposed sanctions on 19 Russian individuals and five groups that include Moscow’s intelligence services, for cyber attacks and interfering with the 2016 presidential election.

The sanctions target the Russian nationals special council Robert Mueller charged on February 16 for tampering with our elections, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), and six individuals working for GRU.

Earlier this summer, Mueller indicted 12 more GRU operatives.

However, in April, the White House eliminated from the National Security Council an integral position charged with developing a policy to defend the United States against cyber warfare and cyber election hacking.

And last month, House Republicans refused to fund election security in a new spending bill.

Russia’s goal this year is exactly the same as it was two years ago–to divide us, sow discord, and create chaos.

As citizens, we need to contact our senators and members of the House who represent us, and demand greater protections against foreign interference in our electoral process.

We are under attack.

Image credit: HackRead

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