Sep 10, 2020 - Technology

Microsoft: Trump and Biden's campaigns were targeted by hackers in Iran, China this year

A split screen of Trump and Biden

Joe Biden in Detroit, Michigan on Sept. 9 and President Trump on Sept. 10. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images and Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Cyberattacks organized in Russia, China and Iran have targeted the 2020 election, President Trump's and former Vice President Joe Biden's campaigns this year, Microsoft said in a blog post on Thursday.

The big picture: The 2020 presidential election is rife with opportunities for foreign actors to sow chaos, since results will likely be delayed due to record mail-in ballots. Protests for racial justice and calls to restructure policing in the U.S. also give Russia an opportunity to spread disinformation.

What they found: Microsoft found that Russian hackers have consistently targeted Republican and Democrat consultants, political advocacy groups and national party organizations affiliated with the 2020 election since September of last year.

  • Hackers based in China levied thousands of attacks between this March and September, some of which included unsuccessful attacks against Biden's campaign and one high-level person formerly involved with the Trump campaign.
  • Attacks from a group operating in Iran unsuccessfully tried to log into accounts of Trump administration officials as well as Trump's re-election staff between May and June.

Driving the news: The Department of Homeland Security's intelligence branch warned law enforcement last week that it believes Russian-controlled social media trolls and state media are likely to continue trying to sow distrust in U.S. election results and mail-in ballots.

  • The nation's top counterintelligence official said in July that Russia, China and Iran present the most pressing threats for election interference in the 2020 presidential race.
  • The Justice Department charged a Russian national on Thursday of "a sweeping plot to sow distrust in the American political process," AP reports, although the agency only referenced her involvement in attempting to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections, not the 2020 election.

What they're saying: "We are aware of reports from Microsoft that a foreign actor has made unsuccessful attempts to access the non-campaign email accounts of individuals affiliated with the campaign," Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.

  • "We have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks and we are prepared for them," Bates said.
  • "As President Trump’s re-election campaign, we are a large target, so it is not surprising to see malicious activity directed at the campaign or our staff. We work closely with our partners, Microsoft and others, to mitigate these threats," Trump campaign spokesperson Thea McDonald said in a statement.
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