For countless months, rumors have floated around news media circles, social media, and the Internet at large about Russia’s involvement in disrupting the democratic process of several countries’ political systems. Americans are most familiar with talks of current United States President Donald Trump’s potential collusion with whatever particular Russian forces are responsible for hacking into then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s private email server, promoting fake news, and creating social media pages that scrambled United States citizens’ minds – all with the ultimate goal of turning Donald Trump’s opponents’ chances of winning into the proverbial dumps.
Just hours ago, US-based computer software giant Microsoft reported that the company found evidence of Russian hackers’ attempts to disrupt business as usual for conservative think tanks – particularly the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute.
What did these hackers do, exactly?
A group of hackers with known ties to the Russian government made two Internet domains – domains are essentially pieces of digital real estate that people visit; for example, Facebook.com is a domain – with the intention of spoofing the International Republican Institute’s and the Hudson Institute’s websites.
What is spoofing?
When hackers spoof websites, they make domains that are meant to replicate the domains they’re trying to mess with. For example, someone might make a domain called faceboook.com – notice the third O – in trying to steal people’s login information. After these hackers get such information, they can log on to victims’ accounts and do whatever they want.
Spoofed websites are also meant to look exactly like the web pages they’re imitating. Hackers will rip off the unique look of websites they’re spoofing directly from those web pages, effectively copying and pasting such layouts and designs onto the spoofed domains.
What else should I know?
No more than a few weeks ago, Missouri Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill reported that hackers from Russia had tried – and failed – to gain access to her campaign’s IT infrastructure. It’s not clear what those hackers were planning on doing.
Companies like Microsoft, groups like the United States government, and individuals like Claire McCaskill are confident in assuming such groups are tied to the Russian government because their IP addresses indicate that they are, in fact, based in Russia; further, such activity closely matches that of previous hackers’ attempts to undermine political processes around the world.