A hacking group tied to the Russian government has been targeting sporting organizations ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Microsoft said Monday.
Microsoft security researchers discovered at least 16 attacks on anti-doping authorities and sports organizations across three continents since mid-September. The hacking began amid news reports that Russia could be banned from next year’s Olympics because of apparent inconsistencies in data that Moscow provided to the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Microsoft’s code name for the hacking group behind the attacks is Strontium, an organization widely considered to be tied to the Russian government. The group is also known as Fancy Bear and APT28.
“The methods used in the most recent attacks are similar to those routinely used by Strontium to target governments, militaries, think tanks, law firms, human rights organizations, financial firms and universities around the world,” said Tom Burt, Microsoft’s vice president of customer security, in a blog post.
Strontium uses tactics, like spear-phishing, to gain access to targeted networks. Microsoft says some of the recent attacks were successful but the majority were blocked.
This is the second instance of coordinated hacking activity that Microsoft has revealed this month. In early October, Microsoft said a hacker group with ties to the Iranian government attacked 241 customer email accounts “associated with a U.S. presidential campaign, current, and former U.S. government officials, journalists covering global politics and prominent Iranians living outside Iran.”
Microsoft’s strategy in publicizing the attacks is to foster a broader international discussion about cybersecurity.
“We think it’s critical that governments and the private sector are increasingly transparent about nation-state activity so we can all continue the global dialogue about protecting the internet,” Burt wrote in Monday’s blog post. “We also hope publishing this information helps raise awareness among organizations and individuals about steps they can take to protect themselves.”