Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin answer questions during a joint press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
  • The Russian government is responsible for the majority of cyberattacks originating from a nation-state, Microsoft researchers said in a new report.
  • Russia is trailed by Iran, China, and North Korea, according to the report, which measured Microsoft accounts that were “targeted or compromised by nation-state activities.”
  • During the 2016 US presidential election, hackers backed by the Russian government breached the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller eventually indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for a variety of offenses related to the hacking. 
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Russian state-backed hackers are the most prolific of any government-backed hackers in the world, according to Microsoft’s first ever “Digital Defense Report.”

The lengthy report digs into ongoing trends in cybersecurity, and reveals that Russia is responsible for the most government-backed cyberattacks by far: Russia reportedly makes up over half, with Iran in a distant second place with just 25%.

Among Microsoft account holders, the groups primarily targeted by nation-state cyberattacks range from journalists to political organizations. And, in 2020, a number of organizations involved in COVID relief efforts have been targeted. 

“Microsoft observed 16 different nation-state actors either targeting customers involved in the global COVID-19 response efforts or using the crisis in themed lures to expand their credential theft and malware delivery tactics,” Microsoft corporate VP Tom Burt said in a blog post. “These COVID-themed attacks targeted prominent governmental health care organizations in efforts to perform reconnaissance on their networks or people. Academic and commercial organizations involved in vaccine research were also targeted.”

Microsoft Digital Defense Report
A chart from the Digital Defense Report published by Microsoft which demonstrates the type of groups each country targets most frequently.
Microsoft

The Russian government has been repeatedly identified as a major player in international cyberwarfare. 

In 2016, Russian state-backed hackers successfully infiltrated the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Convention, which resulted in a massive leak of internal emails. In 2019, special counsel Robert Mueller said that Russia was already attempting to meddle in the 2020 US presidential election

Though the Russian government repeatedly denied reports of interfering with US elections through hacking, Mueller's office indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers after an investigation into interference in the 2016 election. 

Microsoft has been closely monitoring election security since 2018 as part of its Defending Democracy initiative, alerting Democratic and Republican campaigns of potential hacks and working on secure voting technology. The Digital Defense Report published this week, which Microsoft said is a new annual production, is the latest initiative from Microsoft to monitor cybersecurity.

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