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Russia launched 58% of state-backed hacks observed by Microsoft, company says

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with volunteers at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 4, 2021. (Alexey Druzhinin/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Russia’s relentless hacking efforts accounted for 58% of all state-sponsored cyberattacks observed by Microsoft over the past year, the tech giant said Thursday, and the country appears to have gotten significantly more efficient in its digital assault.

Microsoft said that the top three foreign targets of Russian state actors were the U.S., Ukraine and Britain, and that the hackers saw their success rate on hacks climbed from 21% to 32% year-over-year. The company also said it observed a newly intense Russian focus on government agencies, particularly those entwined with foreign policy.

“The percentage of government organizations among Russian targets exploded from roughly 3% last period to 53% since July 2020,” Microsoft said in a 133-page report. “Russian threat actors will follow targets wherever they are.”

The digital defense report underscored the ongoing threat from Moscow, saying that the mix of improved effectiveness and increased focus on government agencies “could portend more high impact compromises in the year ahead.”

Russia’s SolarWinds attacks, a sweeping hack of U.S. agencies and corporations, became a headline-grabbing story after it came to light late last year. But Moscow has long been known for state-sponsored cyberspying under President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Microsoft’s report covered a period spanning from July 2020 to June 2021.

The company said that outside of Russia, the largest share of state-backed hacks was observed from North Korea, Iran and China. China’s attacks were effective 44% of the time, according to the report.

“We anticipate more countries will join the list of those engaging in offensive cyber operations, and that those operations will become more brazen, persistent and damaging unless there are more serious consequences,” Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security, said in a statement.


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