Microsoft uncovers major European Union hacking campaign

A Microsoft company building

A Microsoft company building

The attacks are often via so-called "spear phishing", where hackers pose as employees and send malicious attachments or links to obtain passwords and remote access to an organization's IT platforms.

Microsoft has detected a range of coordinated cyberattacks against European think tanks and non-profit organisations, which focus on issues related to "democracy, electoral integrity, and public policy" and have close connections with government officials.

Microsoft's Tom Burt explained that the attacks originate from a group that it has code-named Strontium, better known as Fancy Bear / APT28.

Microsoft said it discovered the hacking through the company's Threat Intelligence Center and Digital Crimes Unit, and the hacks targeted 104 employee accounts in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Serbia.

Russian state hackers are targeting NGOs, think tanks and other government-linked organizations ahead of the European Parliament elections in spring, according to Microsoft.

The company said Tuesday that a group called Strontium targeted email accounts for more than 100 people in six European countries working for the German Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institutes in Europe and the German Marshall Fund. USA authorities have tied the group to Russia's main intelligence agency, known as the GRU.

It is believed that Strontium was behind the attack.

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In October past year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia must "stop its reckless pattern of behaviour", following allegations of Russian-led cyber-attacks on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Russian Federation has repeatedly denied such claims.

Last week former North Atlantic Treaty Organisation secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, warned of a major Kremlin effort to disrupt the upcoming European elections to spread disinformation and undermine confidence in the democratic process.

The German Marshall Fund also said its systems were not compromised, but it would continue to work with Microsoft and others to identify and mitigate any security challenges.

The German Council on Foreign Relations declined to offer details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Microsoft logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018.

The software, which is part of Microsoft's Defending Democracy Program, will be made available across twelve additional markets including France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain. Russian Federation denies meddling in the elections while Trump has denied any collusion.

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