French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s political campaign was targeted by a group of Russian hackers last month.
The Pawn Storm group, which has been linked to several high-profile attacks in the West, used phishing techniques to try to steal personal data from Macron and members of his campaign, cybersecurity research group Trend Micro said yesterday.
Pawn Storm is also believed to be behind the attacks last year on the US Democratic National Committee, thought to be aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
It is widely suspected of having links to Russia’s security services, and Moscow has been seen as a keen backer of Macron’s rival in the presidential race, Marine le Pen, who met President Vladimir Putin in a surprise visit to Moscow ahead of the vote.
Macron and Le Pen were the top two finishers in the first round of voting on Sunday, moving on to the second-round run-off on May 7.
“There is always some technical uncertainty when it comes to attribution,” Loic Guezo, Southern Europe strategist at Trend Micro, said.
“But we have analysed the operating tactics with data compiled over two years, which allowed us to determine the source.”
The director of Macron’s digital campaign, Mounir Mahjoubi, welcomed the report after “constant attacks, including phishing, since December and January”.
“We weren’t able to attribute them to anyone, which is what this report does,” Mahjoubi said.
“It confirms the suspicions we have had since February.” Mahjoubi said the campaign had bolstered its digital defences in the wake of the attacks, including cutting connections to the computer servers hosting the campaign’s network in February after an attack coming from Ukraine.
“But we shouldn’t be naive. With cyberattacks, a group of hackers can also work for a bigger group or interests,” he said.
“It would take an investigation to find out for sure, and a presidential campaign is not the time for that.”