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Iranian hackers target Trump's re-election campaign

More than 2,700 attempts have been made to identify US officials' emails: Microsoft

San Francisco

THE 2020 US presidential election is still 13 months away, but already Iranians are following in the footsteps of Russia and have begun cyberattacks aimed at disrupting the campaigns.

Microsoft said on Friday that Iranian hackers, with apparent backing from the government, had made more than 2,700 attempts to identify the email accounts of current and former US government officials, journalists covering political campaigns and accounts associated with a presidential campaign.

Though the company would not identify the presidential campaign involved, two people with knowledge of the hacking, who were not allowed to discuss it publicly, said it was President Donald Trump's.

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In addition to Iran, hackers from Russia and North Korea have started targeting organisations that work closely with presidential candidates, according to security researchers and intelligence officials.

Microsoft's report is the latest indication that cyberattacks and influence campaigns against political candidates are likely to accelerate heading into 2020. In 2016, Russian hackers infiltrated the computer networks of Democrats and Republicans, then selectively disseminated Democrats' emails, including those of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, in an effort to harm Mrs Clinton's campaign.

Microsoft said the attacks occurred over a 30-day period in August and September. That was roughly after the Trump administration announced additional sanctions against Iran, more than a year following the president's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. Iranian officials concede that the sanctions have plunged the economy into a recession.

Iranian hackers have been engaged in a broad campaign against US targets, according to Microsoft. The company found that hackers had tried to attack 241 accounts using fairly unsophisticated means. The hackers appeared to have used information available about their victims online to discover their passwords. It was unclear what information they had stolen.

While the Microsoft report did not name Iran's targets, it found evidence that hackers had infiltrated email inboxes in at least four cases. But the four successful hacks did not belong to a presidential campaign.

Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communications director, said in a statement that "we have no indication that any of our campaign infrastructure was targeted". Representatives for other presidential candidates said Friday that their campaigns had not been targeted. NYTIMES