Microsoft Says Hackers Have Been Targeting Think Tanks Ahead of European Elections

Microsoft announced it is increasing its cybersecurity for think tanks in the U.S. and abroad, ahead of the European Parliament elections.

The company said that it has detected attacks against employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institutes in Europe, and The German Marshall Fund through its Threat Intelligence Center and Digital Crimes Unit.

“We believe the work of organizations like The German Marshall Fund and its Alliance for Securing Democracy are an essential part of efforts to secure democracies against those who seek to undermine it,” Microsoft Customer Security & Trust Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post. “Many organizations essential to democracy do not have the resources or expertise to defend themselves against cyberattacks.”

The cyber attack targeted more than 100 accounts across Europe between September and December 2018. Microsoft said its ongoing investigation leads it to believe that Strontium, a Russian-linked hacker group, carried out the attack.

As a response to the hacks, Microsoft is expanding its cybersecurity service AccountGuard, which is part of its Defending Democracy Program, to 12 more European countries. France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain will now have access to Microsoft AccountGuard.

Tech companies across industries are preparing for more election interference efforts as poll dates near. Earlier this month, YouTube announced that it would no longer suggest conspiracy theory videos in an effort to curb the spread of misinformation.

Microsoft said tech companies “have a responsibility to help” to protect governments against cyber attacks and election interference. As more companies work to combat this worldwide issue, companies like Facebook are trying to clean up messes caused in previous elections.


Report: Hijacked Dormant Twitter Accounts Are Spreading Islamic State Propaganda

Hackers have hijacked dormant Twitter accounts in an attempt to spread Islamic State propaganda, according to reporting from TechCrunch. 

The hijacks took place ranging from the last few days to the last few months. Hackers were able to get into the accounts using a decade-old flaw in Twitter’s system that did not previously require email or phone number verifications.

In November, Twitter removed 9 million bot and spam accounts to prevent those types of accounts from automatically making news ones.

“We made progress preventing spammy or suspicious new account creation by requiring new accounts to confirm either an email address or phone number when they sign up to Twitter, and we improved the detection and removal of previously banned accounts who attempt to evade suspension by creating new accounts,” Twitter said in a quarterly filing after removing the accounts.

The latest string of hijackers were able to take over by finding older dormant accounts using expired email addresses. Hackers created identical email addresses, which were usually the same as the Twitter account name, to take control of accounts. The hackers would then begin tweeting and retweeting propaganda in Arabic.

“Reusing email addresses in this manner is not a new issue for Twitter or other online services,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch. “For our part, our teams are aware and are working to identify solutions that can help keep Twitter accounts safe and secure.”

Twitter has officially begun removing some of the hijacked accounts.


500 Million Marriott Guests’ Information Exposed in Breach

On Friday, Marriott revealed that its Starwood reservation system was breached, leaving more than 500 million guests’ information vulnerable to hackers.

The hospitality giant said guests’ personal information including payment information, name, address, phone number and date of birth have potentially been exposed.

“We deeply regret this incident happened,” Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said in a press release.  “We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves.  We are doing everything we can to support our guests, and using lessons learned to be better moving forward.”

Marriott learned of the cyber attack in September and discovered the breach impacted the Starwood reservation system earlier this month. Further investigation determined there was unauthorized access to the system since 2014.

Marriott is allowing guests to enroll in WebWatcher–a monitoring software– free of charge for one year. Guests from the United States who activate WebWatcher will also be provided fraud consultation services and reimbursement coverage for free.

The hack is one of a few recent cyber attacks targeting hotel companies. Just last year, Hyatt Hotels and InterContinental were both hacked.

Marriott International could not be reached for comment.

This Widely-Used Voting Machine Is Vulnerable to Hacks, Report Finds

Photo: istockphoto

The Model 650 election machines used in more than half of U.S. states are vulnerable to cyber attacks, according to a report by Ohio’s secretary of state. The high-speed machine is used to count ballots, but an issue in its system could fall victim to election interference.

The Model 650, created by Election Systems & Software LLC, is still sold on the company’s website; however, a spokeswoman for Election Systems told the Wall Street Journal that the machines have not been in production since 2007.

She also said that the election machines are still fairly difficult to hack into in a “real world environment.”

In August, hackers at the Defcon conference discovered flaws many of the election machine systems used across the country and this research was later made into a report.

The report said that most of the security issues with the voting machines are at pique vulnerability when a hacker has physical access to the equipment; however, there are still ways to hack them remotely.

Although Election Systems is confident in its machines, it has worked with state and local legislatures to replace paperless voting machines.

The 2016 presidential election gave rise to fears of election interference when social platforms like Twitter and Facebook discovered that their sites were used by Russian-backed organizations to tamper in the U.S. elections using fake accounts and trolling to influence election results. Russian hackers were also accused by US officials of targeting voting systems in several states.