Russian hackers — potentially the same ones who interfered in the US election — are now targeting French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign.
That’s according to a new report from Tokyo-based cybersecurity firm Trend Micro.
The report says that a Russian intelligence unit targeted the Macron campaign in March and April using schemes like sending emails designed to bait mid-level campaign managers into handing over their passwords. Trend Micro believes that it’s the very same Russian group, known by a number of names including “Pawn Storm” and “Fancy Bear,” that stole emails from the Democratic National Committee in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election.
“There are several things which suggest that the group behind the Macron hacking was also responsible for the DNC breach, for example. We found similarities in the IP addresses and malware used in the attacks,” Rik Ferguson, vice president of Trend Micro’s security research program, told the Washington Post.
According to the Post, the French government’s cybersecurity agency, ANSSI, has confirmed the cyberattacks against Macron, but has not yet definitively attributed it to Fancy Bear. The government believes it’s possible that “other high-level” hackers could be mimicking the group’s style and allowing it to take the blame for the attacks.
While it’s too early to attribute attacks on Macron’s campaign to Russian hackers, it’s clear that the attacks converge with Russian interests. If Macron were to face damaging leaks the way Hillary Clinton did during the campaign, it would hurt the chances of a candidate who supports the EU and France’s traditional stance toward Russia. Hurting Macron would simultaneously provide a boost to the candidate who wants to withdraw from Europe altogether and warm relations with Moscow: Marine Le Pen.
Much like Donald Trump, Le Pen has spoken favorably about cooperating with Russia on counterterrorism in the Middle East and “developing relations” with the Kremlin. In March, she very conspicuously met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, underscoring how her intention to pivot away from the European Union and the euro would likely coincide with a step toward closer ties with Russia.
Le Pen has a history of ties to Russia and affection for its strongman leader. In 2014, her campaign received a nearly $12 million loan from a Russian bank, after she claimed she was turned down by about a dozen European banks. In 2011, Le Pen told the Russian publication Kommersant that she was inclined to forgive his flaws. “I won’t hide that, in a certain sense, I admire Vladimir Putin,” she said. “He makes mistakes, but who doesn’t? The situation in Russia is not easy.”
Macron, by contrast, has been the only major candidate in the French presidential race with an anti-Putin stance, and one of two to openly embrace NATO, a military alliance vital to containing Russian power in Europe.
Russia has denied all allegations that it’s been meddling in Western elections. But between the US intelligence community’s conclusions, the ongoing House and Senate probes into Moscow’s activities, the recent release of documents from a Putin-backed Russian think tank allegedly outlining the plan to interfere in the US elections, and the simple geopolitical common sense of it all, those denials are growing less and less convincing.