REDMOND, Wash. — Russian, Chinese and Iranian hackers have stepped up their efforts to disrupt the U.S. presidential election, Microsoft said Thursday.
In a post on its website, the tech giant said its security tools thwarted the majority of the attacks but that some accounts were compromised.
“We have and will continue to defend our democracy against these attacks through notifications of such activity to impacted customers, security features in our products and services, and legal and technical disruptions,” the company said.
Microsoft says it hasn’t found evidence that any of the hacking attempts this year were successful, but added they have a limited scope into Russia’s overall operations and could not definitively say no materials were stolen, The New York Times reported.
The company’s disclosure comes a day after a report was released in which a whistleblower in the Department of Homeland Security alleged top officials at the agency have been ordering intelligence briefings, including about election interference, to be manipulated so they more closely align the rhetoric and interests of President Donald Trump.
It also comes two weeks after Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said he would no longer let intelligence agencies give in-person briefings on election interference to Congress, citing concerns about leaks.
Last month, William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said Russian operatives were attempting to denigrate Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election, while China and Iran preferred to hurt Trump’s chances at re-election.
Microsoft’s assessment, however, seemed to draw a different conclusion about China.
It said the hacking campaign “appears to have indirectly and unsuccessfully targeted the Joe Biden for President campaign through non-campaign email accounts belonging to people affiliated with the campaign,” although it adds the group has targeted at least one prominent person formerly associated with the Trump administration.
Trump has on multiple occasions tried to steer the conversation of election meddling to, based on Evanina’s statement, China’s preference to Biden in the White House. The president has claimed China wants Biden to win because he is weak on the Far East power, although Evanina’s assessment said it was because Beijing sees Trump as “unpredictable.”
Microsoft said the same Russian military intelligence unit that hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s computers in 2016 and released emails through Wikileaks is behind the latest attacks. The Russian hackers have targeted individuals belonging to more than 200 organizations directly or indirectly related to the upcoming election as well as political activity in the United Kingdom. It noted that consultants to both Democrats and Republicans have been attacked.
Microsoft said Russians are using more sophisticated methods than they did four years ago to try to compromise people’s accounts and cover their digital footprints.
Iran, meanwhile, has tried to hack into the personal or work accounts of individuals with ties Trump.
“We disclose attacks like these because we believe it’s important the world knows about threats to democratic processes,” Microsoft said. “It is critical that everyone involved in democratic processes around the world, both directly or indirectly, be aware of these threats and take steps to protect themselves in both their personal and professional capacities.”
The tech company called on to Congress to approve more funding to protect against election interference.
The Biden campaign released a statement Thursday saying that they are "aware" of the reports from Microsoft, but were "prepared" for such cyber attacks.
"We have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks, and we are prepared for them," the statement read. "Biden for President takes cybersecurity seriously, and will remain vigilant against these threats, and will ensure that the campaign's assets are secured."
The Trump campaign has not yet publicly responded to the findings.
In a statement, Christopher Krebs, first director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said the department is aware that Microsoft detected hacking attempts but noted that none involved voting infrastructure.