Microsoft: Russia’s Fancy Bear Working to Influence EU Elections

As hundreds of millions of Europeans prepare to go to the polls in May, Fancy Bear ramps up cyber-espionage and disinformation efforts.

As the May elections for European Parliament loom, Russia-linked APT groups are amping up their efforts to target journalists, think-tanks, non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society, according to Microsoft.

The tech giant said on Tuesday that it has observed a recent series of attacks on organizations “working on topics related to democracy, electoral integrity and public policy and that are often in contact with government officials,” including campaigns targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institutes in Europe and The German Marshall Fund.

“Everything we do as an organization, from our policy research to our work strengthening civil society, is dedicated to advancing and protecting democratic values,” The German Marshall Fund said in a statement on Tuesday. “The announcement serves as a reminder that the assault on these values is real and relentless.”

Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) and Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) observed hacking efforts in the last quarter of 2018 targeting 104 accounts belonging to organization employees located in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania and Serbia. According to Microsoft executive Tom Burt, “we are confident that many of [the attacks] originated from a group we call Strontium.”

Strontium, a.k.a. APT 28, Fancy Bear, Pawn Storm, Sednit or Sofacy,, is known for hacking the Democratic National Committee and other targets during the 2016 presidential election in the U.S.; for hacking and disinformation attacks during the French and German presidential elections in 2017; hacking Republican think-tanks and spreading fake social media sites leading up to the U.S. midterm elections in 2018; and a range of other espionage and influence campaigns related to sowing chaos and discord into democratic processes.

European leaders have recently warned that such attacks will continue across Europe in 2019, particularly as hundreds of millions of E.U. citizens prepare to head to the polls to select a new Parliament (something that happens once every five years); and ahead of several key national elections, including in Belgium, Finland, Ireland and Spain.

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