Russian hackers target French presidential frontrunner

Posted April 27, 2017

French presidential election candidate for the En Marche movement Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Reims on March 17.

French far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine le Pen waits before a national homage to slain police officer Xavier Jugele, in the courtyard of the Paris Police headquarters, Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

But analysts say Putin would have good reason to favor conservative nationalist Marine Le Pen over centrist Macron in the upcoming runoff election.

A Japanese cybersecurity firm has found links to a possible attempted hacking of the Macron campaign in the 2017 French Presidential election, drawing comparison with the suspected cyber attacks during the US Presidential election past year.

"They increase the likelihood that their targets will fall for the phishing with excellent social engineering, precise targeting and by registering domain names that are very similar to the domains of the legitimate Macron campaign and Microsoft services", Hacquebord said.

"The phishing pages we are talking about are very personalized web pages to look like the real address", Mahjoubi said, according to the New York Times.

The French presidential race is not yet over.

Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen, who took the first two spots in Sunday's election first round, are facing off in the May 7 run-off.

"Le Pen has been very open about her desire to have better relations with Russian Federation, she's an outspoken opponent of sanctions [against Russia], and she's interested in taking France outside of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation", said Will Pomeranz at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

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A Trend Micro report claimed that hackers set up a bogus website to harvest the passwords of Macron campaign staffers.

The company recently detected four fake Macron-themed domains being set up on digital infrastructure used by a group it called Pawn Storm, according to Feike Hacquebord, a Trend Micro researcher.

It is yet to be determined whether the potential traps have been successful in snaring any email accounts associated with the Macron campaign.

Trend Micro gave the group the name Pawn Storm two years ago after a strategy in chess in which a player moves pawns in quick succession toward an opponent's defenses.

Pawn Storm, known as APT28, is also believed to be behind attacks on US Democratic National Committee to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

French officials have also tended to be more circumspect than their American counterparts, repeatedly declining to tie Pawn Storm to any specific actor.

U.S. intelligence services a year ago said the Pawn Storm group was a GRU front and that the United States election hack was personally ordered by Russian president Vladimir Putin. In February, the campaign complained publicly of being targeted by Russia-linked electronic spying operations, although it offered no proof at the time.

"The research team didn't have any additional information or speculation on why no other media outlets were confirmed targets", said Trend Micro Vice President of Cloud Research Mark Nunnikhoven.