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Russian intelligence hackers are back, Microsoft warns, targeting officials from both sides

Microsoft’s findings come just two weeks after the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, declared that he would no longer allow intelligence agencies to provide detailed, personal briefings on election interference to Congress. He said the restrictions were due to leaks.

The company’s decision to publish the findings as the presidential campaign enters its last eight weeks underscored the usefulness of Mr. Ratcliffe’s efforts: Companies like Microsoft and Google, because they sit at the top of global networks, have a seat on the front of suspicious activity and growing motivation to make it public to warn their customers. The result is inevitably a fall in reports from the private sector, which intelligence officials will be forced to somehow assess along with their own findings.

In a statement, Christopher Krebs, head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, said, “We are aware that Microsoft has discovered attempts to compromise the email accounts of individuals and organizations associated with the upcoming election.”

Mr. Krebs noted that “no one is involved in maintaining or operating polling stations and there was no identified impact on the electoral systems.” He also said that the company’s “announcement is in line with previous statements by the intelligence community about a number of malicious online activities targeting the 2020 campaign and reinforces that this is an all-of-nation attempt to defend democracy.”

Mr. Krebs, who was Microsoft’s leader before joining the Trump administration, said his agency on Thursday issued “guidelines for improving network protection against account compromise attacks.”

There is no doubt that Microsoft’s assessment complicates the administration’s statement that China poses a more serious threat to US elections than Russia, as both National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien and Attorney General William P. Barr said in interviews last week.

In fact, the report concludes that the Russian military intelligence unit has only accelerated its attacks, even after a series of financial sanctions, charges by Russian intelligence officers and retaliatory cyberattacks by the US cyber command ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

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