As GOP members of the House voted Thursday not to renew additional funding for election security, halfway across the country, Microsoft recounted its efforts to help the U.S. government fend off attempts by Russia to hack into the campaigns of three congressional candidates earlier this year.
Keying on candidates “who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint as well as an election disruption standpoint,” Microsoft Vice President for Customer Security Tom Burt said the hackers volleyed phishing attacks at campaign staffers, hoping to lure them to a fake Microsoft domain and nick their credentials.
“Earlier this year, we did discover that a fake Microsoft domain had been established as the landing page for phishing attacks,” Burt told attendees at the Aspen Security Forum, who said the metadata “suggested” the attacks were aimed at three midterm election hopefuls.
Once Microsoft discovered the malicious activity, it shut down the domain and alerted government authorities.
The debate over election security has heated up during a week where congressional committees have heard from lawmakers and intelligence experts about the cyberthreats posed by nation-states and, intelligence community officials were compelled to made strong statements about Russia’s cyber aggression in the aftermath of the Helsinki Summit when President Trump seemed to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that his country didn’t interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Shortly after emerging from a more than two-hour private meeting with Putin in Helsinki Monday, Trump said, “President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia, let me just say, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
But at a Tuesday press conference, the president explained he’d reviewed a transcript of his Helsinki comments and “In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t'” and expressed support for “our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”
The House vote Thursday was in response to a procedural motion from House Democrats who wanted to add $380 million worth of election security grants for states to a 2019 spending bill. But Republicans spurned the motion, noting that there was no need for additional funding since the grants program has been fully funded year after year.
“I know what we need for safe and secure elections, and that’s voter ID,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.