Microsoft Says Russia Tried to Hack Three 2018 U.S. Midterm Candidates

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The hackers targeted the candidates’ staffers with phishing tactics.

A Microsoft executive today swiftly contradicted Donald Trump’s claim that Russia is not trying to disrupt the 2018 midterms: The company has already worked with the U.S. government to foil Russian hacking attempts on three candidates.

While refusing to disclose their names for privacy reasons, Tom Burt, Microsoft’s vice president for customer security, told the Aspen Security Forum that the three candidates “were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint, as well as an election disruption standpoint.”

Burt said that the hackers targeted the candidates’ staffers with the kind of phishing tactics used to inveigle their way into the Democratic National Committee servers in 2016: They set up a fake Microsoft domain and attempted to direct staffers towards it. The government and Microsoft “were able to avoid anyone being infected by that particular attack,” he said.

When asked yesterday if he believed Russia was interfering in the U.S. midterms, Trump said: “No.” This contradicted his own intelligence chief Dan Coats’s statement days earlier: “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later claimed Trump had been misunderstood, insisting that he had meant “no” to further questions from reporters. “We believe that the threat still exists,” she said, according to the New York Times. “Which is why we are taking steps to prevent it.”

Burt said that so far Russian hackers have been less active than in 2016, during the presidential race. “The consensus of the threat intelligence community right now is that we’re not seeing the same level of activity by the Russian activity groups,” he said. “We don’t see the activity of them trying to infiltrate think tanks and academia and in social networks to do the research that they do to build the phishing attacks.”

He warned, however: “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to see it, there’s a lot of time left before the election.”