July 20 (UPI) -- Hackers have already begun targeting candidates running for office in key U.S. midterm elections, a tech expert at Microsoft said.
Tom Burt, Microsoft vice president for customer security, said Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado the hackers who meddled in the 2016 vote have already gone after the campaigns of at least three 2018 candidates.
The cyberattacks occurred earlier this year, he said, but he did not name the candidates.
"We did discover that a fake Microsoft domain had been established as the landing page for phishing attacks and we saw metadata that suggested those phishing attacks were being directed at three candidates," Burt said at the conference. "We can't disclose [identities] because we maintain our customer privacy, but I can tell you that they were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint.
"We took down that domain, and working with the government we were able to avoid anybody being infected by that particular attack."
Authorities say phishing, in which hackers try to trick victims into visiting a fake website to gain sensitive information, was used by Russian hackers before the 2016 election.
Some cybersecurity firms believe the new attacks are also linked to Russian intelligence.
Burt said the hacking team is known to Microsoft engineers as Strontium, but it may also be known as APT28, Fancy Bear or Pawn Storm. Under those names, the group previously worked with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.
Burt said the level of activity right now is less than it was two years ago, but warned it "doesn't mean we are not going to see it.
"There's a lot of time left before the election."
One-third of the 100-member U.S. Senate, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and numerous state and local offices are at stake in the Nov. 6 election.
Burt's warning came three days after President Donald Trump met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. At the summit, Putin denied Russia attempted to intervene in 2016 and said the Kremlin won't this year, either. The U.S. intelligence committee, though, has said there is ample evidence of Moscow's guilt.