Microsoft detects rise in Russian hacking and espionage as free world backs Ukraine

Russia has ramped up its hacking groups and cyber espionage efforts against 42 countries as it waging war in Ukraine, according to a report released Wednesday by Microsoft.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said Russia’s No. 1 target outside Ukraine was the United States, but noted that Russian cyber activity also targets Poland, the site of a large amount of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

“Russia’s targets have prioritized governments, especially NATO members,” Mr Smith wrote on the company’s blog. “But the list of targets also includes think tanks, humanitarian organisations, IT companies and suppliers of energy and other critical infrastructure.”

According to Microsoft, nearly half (49%) of Russian hacking attacks outside of Ukraine were against the government. Countries hit by Russia include Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden and Turkey.

Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center observed 128 cyber intrusions outside Ukraine, and the company said Russian attackers were successful in 29 percent of those efforts. Microsoft found a quarter of the data stolen in these successful compromises.

Interestingly, the big tech company said it had not seen a Russian cyber intrusion into Estonia since the start of the war in Ukraine, and Microsoft noted that the country has embraced cloud computing services.

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In addition to cyber espionage and hacking, Microsoft has observed successful Russian cyber influence campaigns aimed at shaping perceptions of the war in Ukraine. Microsoft’s AI for Good lab, which built the Russian Propaganda Index to monitor state-controlled media and its amplifiers, found that since the war began, the spread of Russian propaganda has increased by 82 percent in the U.S. and 216 percent in Ukraine.

The fight against online influence has been complicated by free speech, Microsoft’s report said. The report, “Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from the Cyber ​​War,” said freedoms “impact and even limit the role of democratic governments in addressing any issues related to Internet content.”

Microsoft said it was committed to maintaining that freedom and suggested other ways to disrupt digital influence campaigns.

“Disruption is likely to play a more significant role when we consider operations against foreign cyber influence,” the report said. “The best way to subvert is becoming clearer. The best antidote to widespread deception is transparency. There is an opportunity to counter foreign efforts to mislead the public by providing better information to the public.”

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