Russian government hackers who targeted the US Democratic party in 2016 have mounted increasingly sophisticated attacks on both Democrats and Republicans during the current presidential race, Microsoft said on Thursday.

The disclosure from the computing company also included details of hacking attempts by a group operating in China, which Microsoft said had targeted people associated with Joe Biden, and attacks originating from Iran on people linked to Donald Trump’s campaign.

Microsoft said a Russian intelligence unit that the US has blamed for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee had been highly active since September 2019, and was using more complex methods than it did four years ago.

The company said its investigation found attacks on US-based consultants serving both parties and that the unit had used “new reconnaissance tools and new techniques to obfuscate their operations”. 

The various attacks on people associated with both Mr Trump and Mr Biden’s campaigns were unsuccessful, Microsoft said.

The announcement followed warnings in recent weeks by Trump administration officials that foreign actors were seeking to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, but differed in some respects about the nature of the threat.

In August, a top US intelligence official said China had preferred that Mr Trump lose his bid for re-election in November. However, Microsoft said a Chinese group called Zirconium had targeted Mr Biden’s campaign through the personal email accounts of people associated with his election bid.

An unnamed “prominent individual” formerly associated with Mr Trump’s administration was also targeted by the Chinese group, Microsoft said.

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The company said Iranian hackers had targeted the accounts of Trump administration and Trump campaign officials.

Microsoft’s announcement came a day after revelations that a US government whistleblower had alleged officials at the Department of Homeland Security sought to censor reports warning of the threat of Russian election interference.

Earlier on Thursday, the Department of Justice indicted a Russian national who was allegedly involved in US election meddling on charges that he sought to steal the identities of Americans in order to open bank and cryptocurrency accounts in their names.

Via Financial Times