Technology

Microsoft says Russian hackers targeted European think tanks

The group of Russian hackers thought to be responsible for stealing a trove of emails from the Democratic National Committee has been targeting European think tanks, Microsoft said in a blog post on Wednesday.

Microsoft announced that it had uncovered spearfishing attempts by the group, known as APT 28 or Fancy Bear, that targeted employees at the German Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institutes in Europe and The German Marshall Fund.

It's the second time in the past six months that Microsoft has revealed its efforts to crack down on APT 28, which is believed to have ties to Russian intelligence.

"The attacks we've seen recently, coupled with others we discussed last year, suggest an ongoing effort to target democratic organizations," Tom Burt, the company's vice president for customer security and trust, wrote in the blog post. "They validate the warnings from European leaders about the threat level we should expect to see in Europe this year."

According to Microsoft, the hacker group sent its targets fraudulent emails that included malicious links that aimed to inject malware into the organizations' software systems.

Last year, the tech giant accused the group of employing the same tactics against conservative think tanks in the U.S. ahead of the midterm elections. Russia later dismissed the allegations as "political games."

The latest attacks occurred between September and December of last year, ahead of the European Parliament elections and elections in European Union member states. Approximately 100 employees of the organizations were targeted, the company added.

"These attacks came as no surprise - everything we do as an organization, from our policy research to our work strengthening civil society, is dedicated to advancing and protecting democratic values," German Marshall Fund President Karen Donfried said in a statement. "The announcement serves as a reminder that the assault on these values is real and relentless."

Microsoft said it is working with the think tanks to provide enhanced cybersecurity protection.

"Europe is regarded as the 'birthplace of democracy,' " Burt wrote. "It was here that the principles of representative democracy were laid down - principles that have since been replicated across the globe. However, as the ongoing attacks demonstrate, this idea is increasingly under threat."

- This report was updated at 9:24 a.m.

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