Suspected Russia hackers 'targeted Macron campaign'

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The Russian cyberespionage group blamed for the infamous US Democratic National Committee email leak launched targeted phishing attacks against French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron's campaign as recently as last month.

Weeks ago, Macron's digital director Mounir Mahjoubi said that he had "strong suspicions" Moscow was behind a series of "highly sophisticated" attempts to get inside the campaign's email accounts.

Feike Hacqueboard, a senior threat researcher with security firm Trend Micro, told ABC News that he has identified four internet domain names connected to a group called "Pawn Storm" that were used to target the French centrist's campaign with so-called phishing attacks.

According to Japanese antivirus firm Trend Micro, hackers linked to Russian Federation created fake websites in an attempt to steal passwords and online credentials from Macron staffers.

USA intelligence agencies said in a report January 6 that Russian state hackers, under direction from the Kremlin, had broken into networks of the Democratic Party and into emails of Clinton campaign officials in 2016 with the aim of assisting Donald Trump's campaign.

The French election has been closely watched for signs of digital interference of any kind.

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French independent centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron urged national unity against the populist campaign of his rival Marine Le Pen.

Mr Hacquebord said telltale techniques of the group lent weight to the idea that the people involved in the French attacks were behind ones seen past year in the US.

Russia, or at least its state-controlled media, clearly favored Le Pen.

Macron was whistled and booed when he first arrived, in chaotic scenes broadcast live on French TV news channels.

However, Trend Micro did not name Russian Federation as being behind Pawn Storm, and neither linked the alleged Macron campaign attack to Moscow.

As the candidates prepare to influence the electorate ahead of the May 7 second round vote, a survey by Harris Interactive released Wednesday, showed that 61 percent of voters thought Le Pen had started the final stretch of campaigning well.

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Russian Federation has repeatedly denied accusations of trying to interfere in the French - or other - elections. "It's definitely a shift in their strategy", said Ed Cabrera, chief cybersecurity officer for Trend Micro, which was founded in Los Angeles but now has its headquarters in Tokyo.

Investigating the information associated with onedrive-en-marche [.] fr, the only domain publicly identified by Trend Micro in its report, a researcher pinpointed three other domains connected to it, and apparently controlled by the same hackers. 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 European Union and France's traditional stance toward Russian Federation.

However, the Kremlin dismissed the report.

Other U.S. -based firms SecureWorks, FireEye and ThreatConnect have also said the group has ties to the Russian government.

"My grandfather was a fisherman, so I am in my element", Le Pen said after her pre-dawn voyage aboard the "Grace of God 2" trawler.

"There is a crisis of confidence in France", said Cécile Vaissié, a Russian Federation expert at the University of Rennes in northern France.

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