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Security & privacy

Microsoft warns of hackers targeting the U.S. midterm elections

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The 2018 mid-term elections are going to be targeted by hackers. No matter which way you lean politically, that news should be pretty disturbing.

It will not be the first time people tried to interfere with our elections, and it most certainly will not be the last. As voting has become more reliant on technology, the opportunities for infiltration and problems have gone up, and some will try to take advantage of it.

In fact, even though the elections are still months away according to Microsoft it has already begun. The revelation came during a security conference panel in Colorado, and it should serve as a warning to us all.

How safe is our electoral process?

Tom Burt, who is an executive with Microsoft, said three congressional candidates have already been targeted by phishing attacks. A cybersecurity expert warned it was likely done in an attempt to undermine the democratic process.

Microsoft first noticed the hacking attempts after looking into fake Microsoft web domains that were linked to espionage back in 2016. The group who has been using the domains is known as “Fancy Bear” or “Strontium,” and some security firms believe they have links to Russian intelligence.

Russia has been adamant in its denial of hacking or election interference, though the U.S. Intelligence Community disagrees.

Regardless of who is behind the hacks and to what end, the main point is this is something everyone needs to be aware of. And, of course, avoid being victimized by.

Why are they hacking?

Burt did not reveal who the targeted candidates were, but noted he felt they were interesting choices from an espionage standpoint. He did point out that the hackers were not successful in their attempts and that the fake Microsoft domain had been removed.

According to Professor Alan Woodward, who is a cybersecurity expert at the University of Surrey, the hackers may have been trying to access the candidates’ personal emails or messages. With those in hand, the hackers could make a candidate look really, really bad.

Woodward added that the hackers may not even support an individual candidate, as their primary goal may be simply to undermine the democratic process.

What can be done to prevent issues?

Like any phishing expeditions or hacking attempts, the bad actors only succeed when our guard is down. Whether it’s clicking on phony links and downloading nefarious apps or just leaving sensitive information virtually unprotected, there are things we do to make us more vulnerable.

Being aware and understanding of the hackers’ intent will go a long way toward helping everyone be ready and, hopefully, take measures that will make any attempts futile. But with a little more than three months between now and the mid-term elections, there is still a long way to go.

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