Iran-linked hackers tried to compromise presidential campaign, Microsoft says

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(NBC) – A group of hackers believed to be linked to the government of Iran tried to access email accounts associated with a U.S. presidential campaign, Microsoft announced Friday.

The company said that it had seen “significant cyber activity” from a group of hackers that it believes “originates from Iran and is linked to the Iranian government.”

Microsoft said that its threat-tracking operation found the group attacked 241 email accounts associated with current and former U.S. government officials, journalists, prominent Iranians outside Iran and one U.S. presidential campaign. Microsoft did not name the campaign that was targeted.

The company said that the attack on the campaign was unsuccessful but that the hackers were able to access four accounts not associated with the campaign or the current and former government officials.

Tom Burt, vice president of customer security and trust for Microsoft, wrote in a blog post that the Iran-linked group, which the company refers to by the name Phosphorous, gathered information about people in an attempt to trick them into falling for phishing schemes, in which the group attempted to use password reset or account recovery features to take over accounts.

“While the attacks we’re disclosing today were not technically sophisticated, they attempted to use a significant amount of personal information both to identify the accounts belonging to their intended targets and in a few cases to attempt attacks,” Burt wrote. “This effort suggests Phosphorous is highly motivated and willing to invest significant time and resources engaging in research and other means of information gathering.”

U.S. intelligence as well as independent cybersecurity experts have said that they expect a variety of hacking attempts aimed at aspects of the 2020 U.S. election, including campaigns and voting infrastructure.

While Russia remains a fixture of election security concerns, other nations have also emerged as legitimate threats. In January, then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned that numerous countries — including China and Iran — are poised to try to influence American politics and that they are expected to be honing their tactics and coming up with new exploits.

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