US software giant Microsoft has taken new measures to protect American democracy by piggybacking on US special counselor Robert Mueller's indictment of 12 Russian "agents," AP news reported on Tuesday.
The accusations have reportedly led to the discovery of new attempts to undermine the US electoral process, Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith asserted. The "activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy," he stated.
Smith told reporters that Russians attempted to create fake websites to mimic two conservative political platforms, the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. When asked whom he suspected, Smith replied, "We have no doubt in our minds" who was responsible.
Smith did not offer any further information about the websites.
"We're glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors," Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell commented. "It means we're having an effect, presumably."
Sen. Claire McCaskill [D-MO] jumped on the Russia-bashing bandwagon a few weeks ago saying that Russian hackers "tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network."
— Ed Krassenstein (@EdKrassen) 21 August 2018
To help secure America's upcoming election cycle, Smith announced that his company would hand out free cybersecurity protection to all US candidates, campaigns and political organizations, but only if they were already using Microsoft Office 365, he stated Tuesday.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the claims as "groundless," stating that Russia did not know "what kind of hackers they are referring to," what "the impact on the elections is," and stressed that the US itself confirmed that "there was no influence on the elections."
The latest show of corporate backing to protect America's elections follows a long list of attempts to use Russia to further their own agendas. Recent history shows five incidences where US lawmakers have tried desperately to capitalize on the Russian effigy, resulting in embarrassing gaffes.
12 Russians, Two Groups, One Wagging Finger
Amid the arbitrary "12 Russian hackers" indictment by US special counselor Robert Mueller and the subsequent Facebook circus, Russia is not simply content with fudging elections, officials said.
Russians can also penetrate US power grids and "quite possibly" cause blackouts and other calamities, DHS industrial safety analysis chief Jonathan Gomer told The Wall Street Journal in July.
Gomer pointed his finger at two shadowy hacker collectives – Dragonfly and Energetic Bear – which officials accuse of Russian government backing, stating they compromised data, accessed energy networks and collected sensitive information. However, Gomer failed to disclose which companies the omnipotent Russians hacked, only stating that "hundreds" of them were affected.
Despite regular criticisms of election hacking, the United States rejected a vital clause that Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed at the Helsinki Summit, the Kommersant newspaper reported.
President Putin attended the summit on July 16 and recommended implementing "joint measures to prevent the use of cyberspace to destabilize internal political processes, including elections."
The offer would have given mutual assurances that each side would not attack critical infrastructure such as hospitals, power grids, and banks; however, President Trump turned down the offer.
Nevertheless, the frenzied media did charge Putin with giving Trump an $83 Adidas soccer ball containing a chip "capable" of transmitting data to nearby mobiles, Bloomberg reported.
The Kremlin = ka CHING!
A 21-strong coalition of US lawmakers led by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood pressed Congress to do more to prevent dastardly Russians from undermining the 2018 US midterms, a letter dated July 23 reads.
Citing "hackers within Russia's military intelligence service," the coalition accused super-secret Russian spies of invading "a state election website to steal the sensitive information of approximately 500,000 American voters" and infiltrating "a company that supplies voting software across the United States."
"No matter how much President Trump waffles, the facts are clear: Russia interfered with our 2016 elections. It's high time that Congress act to prevent the next attack — because our democracy depends on it," Attorney General Underwood wrote.
Trump loves Putin but demonizes former CIA Director Brennan & others in the US Intelligence community. Yet it’s Russia that continues to threaten our country & our elections-here’s more proof. https://t.co/z9JWFH2kud— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) 21 August 2018
The statement then advised several steps, including support for the 2017 Secure Elections Act (S.2261), which grants the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) oversight over election security.
Attorney General Underwood also called upon Congress to increase Election Assistance Commission funding beyond the $380 million in grants President Trump had approved via the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
However, there is no trace of Russian interference in the 2016 election infrastructure, FBI director Christopher Wray admitted. "[There are] certainly other efforts — what I would call ‘malign influence operations' — are very active," he mentioned at the Aspen Security Forum.
Election Hacking: So Easy, Even a Kid Could Do It
Child prodigy Emmett Brewer shocked the world after successfully hacking a mock Florida Secretary of State website, destroying the Russian narrative in less than 10 minutes.
Brewer, 11, entered the 2018 DEFCON 26's Voting Machine Hacking Village competition in Las Vegas, Nevada, with 30 other contenders and successfully hacked the replica website, tampered with voting election results, deleted and added voting data, and even spiced up ballots with names like "Bob Da Builder" and "Richard Nixon's Head."
The National Association of Secretaries of State merely scoffed at the contest results, claiming that the event "utilizes a pseudo environment which in no way replicates state election systems, networks or physical security."
"Providing conference attendees with unlimited physical access to voting machines, most of which are no longer in use, does not replicate accurate physical and cyber protections established by state and local governments before and on Election Day," it stated.
Meh, You All Look the Same
The US Department of Justice joined the Russia-bashing bandwagon after three suspects from the notorious FIN7 hacker group were detained. The perpetrators were charged with "26 felony counts alleging conspiracy, wire fraud, computer hacking, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft," according to an August 1 DoJ statement.
Since 2015, the FIN7 group allegedly used a high-tech malware campaign targeting over 100 US companies in the restaurant, gaming and hospitality industries. The Justice Department reportedly accused them of stealing millions of customer credit and debit card numbers.
"There are Russian [citizens] in that case, and others, there are many, many others," the DoJ said. "I practically guarantee that a large percentage of those, even up to 40 percent, will be Russians."
However, the three high-ranking suspects involved – Dmytro Fedorov, 44, Fedir Hladyr, 33, and Andrii Kolpakov, 30 – were actually Ukrainian, not Russian. Nevertheless, the DoJ linked them to a "front company," namely Combi Securities, which was "purportedly headquartered in Russia and Israel, to provide a guise of legitimacy and to recruit hackers to join the criminal enterprise," the statement read.