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Microsoft has warned 10,000 people that nation-state hackers are targeting them

Microsoft has warned 10,000 people that nation-state hackers are targeting them


1,600 personal Microsoft accounts affected

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Microsoft has warned nearly 10,000 people that nation-state hackers have targeted or breached their accounts in the past year. The software giant revealed that around 84 percent of these attacks are aimed at businesses, while the remaining 16 percent are targeted at personal email accounts. The statistics reveal the extent of nation-state attacks, and that as many as 1,600 personal Microsoft Accounts have been affected by these hackers recently.

Most of these attacks originate from hackers in Iran, North Korea, and Russia according to Microsoft. “We have seen extensive activity from the actors we call Holmium and Mercury operating from Iran, Thallium operating from North Korea, and two actors operating from Russia we call Yttrium and Strontium,” explains Tom Burt, corporate vice president for customer security and trust at Microsoft.

At least one of these groups, that Microsoft identifies as Strontium, is the Russian Fancy Bear collective that have previously been involved in the 2016 hacks of the Democratic National Committee and the NotPetya attacks against Ukranian banks and infrastructure in June 2017.

Microsoft is highlighting these attacks as part of its push to convince election officials and election technology suppliers to incorporate ElectionGuard, Microsoft’s open source software development kit (SDK), into their systems. ElectionGuard is designed to create open results for third parties to securely validate, allow voters to check their votes were counted, and ensure there’s end-to-end verification of elections.

Microsoft warned last year that nation-state hacking groups already targeted three midterm candidates, and the company’s warning to 10,000 users in the past year highlights that this isn’t a problem that is going to disappear overnight. “So the problem is real and unabated. It is time to find solutions,” says Burt. “Governments and civil society have important roles to play, but the tech industry also has a responsibility to help defend democracy.”