Suspected Russian hackers target US think tanks after election

The attacks involved spear phishing emails sent to dozens of targets

Hours after Donald Trump won the presidential election, a suspected Russian cyberespionage team was blamed for targeting several U.S. think tanks with phishing emails designed to fool victims into installing malware.

On Wednesday, the phishing emails landed in the inboxes of dozens of targets associated with U.S. think tanks and non-governmental organizations, said security firm Volexity.

A hacking group called APT 29 or Cozy Bear was behind the attack, according to Veloxity. This is one of the same groups that security experts say was also responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee and is allegedly tied to the Russian government.

Wednesday’s attack involved five waves of phishing emails that targeted groups and individuals in the national security, international affairs, and public policy sectors, among other groups, Volexity said in a blog post.

To entice the victims to open the emails, the messages were titled with subject lines about election rigging in the U.S. and how the system was flawed. Other emails pretended to come from the Clinton Foundation. However, all of the messages were meant to trick victims into opening download links or attachments to install malware.

coz link1 1 Volexity

A copy of one of the phishing emails. 

That malware is designed to examine and control whatever system it infects. It can also secretly download additional malicious files and evade detection from antivirus products.

Volexity is blaming the attack on the Cozy Bear group partly because of the malware used; it contains coding that's been found in other hacking techniques tied to the elite hacking team, company founder Steven Adair said.

In addition, Wednesday's attack matches similar methods used in phishing email campaigns that occurred in August and also targeted think tanks and NGOs.

In this case, the malicious emails came from a mix of Google Gmail accounts and possibly hacked emails accounts from Harvard’s arts and sciences faculty.

Harvard didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Volexity declined to name which think tanks were targeted. But Adam Segal, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Maeve Whelan-Wuest, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, said on Twitter they had both received the phishing emails.

Why these institutions were targeted isn't clear. But "folks at think tanks have a lot of contacts and relationships with different government officials and people in the political space," Adair said.

"My guess it's access to what these people are saying and potentially leveraging knowledge about them to further target them," he said. 

Security firm Crowdstrike has claimed the hacking team Cozy Bear has previously infiltrated networks belonging to the White House, U.S. State Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  

Although security experts and the U.S. government have linked the Cozy Bear group with Russia, the country's government has denied any involvement in state-sponsored hacking.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?