Off to Colorful Start: French Centrists Accuse Russia of Trying to Hack Servers

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A few days after Sunday's first round of voting in France's heated presidential race, Western officials and media have decided to dust off the old broken record of accusing Russia of hacking elections, this time blaming Russian hackers for trying to crack the computer servers of centrist establishment candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Leading French media and US television network CNN have picked up on a sensational new 'discovery' by Tokyo-based cybersecurity firm Trend Micro, which found that unknown hackers had set up several fake web domain names similar to those of the Macron campaign, in an effort to trick Macron campaign workers into compromising their email accounts using a trick known as phishing. 

Macron, a former Minister of Economy and investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque, won the first round of France's presidential race on Sunday, receiving 24.01% of the vote. He will face off against Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, who received 21.3% of the vote, in the second and final round May 7.

© REUTERS / Gonzalo FuentesPeople walk past campaign posters of Marine Le Pen (L), French National Front (FN) political party leader, and Emmanuel Macron (R), head of the political movement En Marche! (Onwards!), two of the eleven candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Paris, France, April 10, 2017
People walk past campaign posters of Marine Le Pen (L), French National Front (FN) political party leader, and Emmanuel Macron (R), head of the political movement En Marche! (Onwards!), two of the eleven candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Paris, France, April 10, 2017 - Sputnik International
People walk past campaign posters of Marine Le Pen (L), French National Front (FN) political party leader, and Emmanuel Macron (R), head of the political movement En Marche! (Onwards!), two of the eleven candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Paris, France, April 10, 2017

Trend Micro analyst Feike Hacquebord told CNN that while he could not confirm that the hackers were Russian, the hacking did have a 'similar M.O.' to that of the hack of the Democratic National Committee, which US mainstream media and some US intelligence officials have claimed were tied to Russian intelligence.

US officials, pundits and media analysts have yet to provide any credible evidence backing their claim that Russia was responsible for the DNC hack. WikiLeaks, the organization which leaked the hacked information, has also denied that their source was affiliated with Russia. 

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Ever since last November's presidential election in the US, claims of 'Russian hackers' influencing the vote have become somewhat of a catch-all scare-mongering tactic across Western countries, with officials and media in the Netherlands, Germany and even the UK all claiming that their elections, including the Brexit referendum, were or are in danger of being hacked by nefarious Kremlin operators. 'Russian hacking' has been a particularly popular explanation when elections don't turn out as expected, such as the Brexit vote or the US presidential election.

According to the French edition of 20 Minutes, the hackers targeting Macron's En Marche! Party were presumably affiliated with the Fancy Bears' hack team, a group which private investigators working for the Hillary Clinton campaign have accused of being connected to Russian intelligence. 

Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, casts her ballot in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, April 23, 2017. - Sputnik International
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The French daily claimed that the Fancy Bears have already engaged in hacking in France in the past, attacking French television Channel TV5 Monde in 2015. A group affiliated with Daesh (ISIL/ISIS) calling itself the Cyber Caliphate claimed responsibility for that attack, but French and UK media have since accused Russian intelligence of being responsible, although observers have been left scratching their heads as to what Russia would have to gain from the hack.

Furthermore, last month, WikiLeaks revealed the existence of a CIA anti-digital forensics tool used by the agency to disguise CIA hacks with traces of Russian, Chinese and Arabic in code to divert attention for their own hacks onto foreign actors.

Commenting on the En Marche! servers story in an analytical piece for RIA Novosti, columnist Igor Gashkov emphasized that given that the fact that intelligence services now have the advanced capability of mimicking one another, it's unlikely that the true culprit, if there was one, will ever be found.

Furthermore, Gashkov recalled that Macron's party is saying that "not a single email address was cracked by the hackers. In other words, there was no hacking, but only accusations."

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"One comment made by representatives of En Marche! deserves special attention," the journalist stressed. Commenting on the alleged hack attempt, Macron campaign digital chief Mounir Mahjoubi told French media that "the most important information is not sent by email." This, Gashkov wrote, may be an indication that the candidate has learned from past mistakes.

Earlier this year, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Russia's Izvestia newspaper that there may be evidence in Hillary Clinton's leaked emails that Macron had engaged in shady correspondence with the former secretary of state, traveling to the US before announcing his campaign. This has led to allegations from French politicians that Macron was a 'US agent' lobbying the interests of the US financial market in France.

In any case, Assange has also confirmed that the information which may be contained in the Clinton emails dates back to 2012, while she was still secretary of state. At the time, Macron was still a relatively minor political figure, and it remains unclear in what capacity he may have been discussed in Clinton's correspondence.

This week's accusations aren't the first time En Marche! has accused Russian hackers of interference. In February, the campaign claimed that a hack registered on Ukrainian territory caused the En Marche! site to crash temporarily. As expected, Russia was blamed for that attack, too.

Emmanuel Macron, French presidential candidate and leader of the movement En Marche!, during a news conference following the first round of the election. - Sputnik International
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As in all other cases so far, claims of Russian interference in the French political process is rooted in innuendo and accusations which cannot be independently confirmed. It remains to be seen whether and how the claims will impact next month's second round of voting in the presidential race. 

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