Moon of Alabama — August 21, 2018
The software behemoth Microsoft Corp wants to gain an insider view on candidates and election campaigns at the federal, state and local level. The Seattle based company now offers a “special cybersecurity protection” to those candidates and campaigns that use its Office 365, Outlock or Hotmail cloud services. Those who take up the offer will put their emails, internal strategy papers and financial records onto Microsoft owned and administrated servers where Microsoft personal will have a special eye on them.
The company hopes that a large amount of such data will enable it “to collect critical feedback” into developing political dangers and will allow it to “to address the specific needs of eligible organizations”. This could, for example, be done by directing or withholding campaign contributions in line with its corporate interests. The acquired material will also be of interest to various national intelligence agencies and might be of value for future political trades.
Microsoft’s new data acquisition path for its corporate intelligence has its own marketing campaign. This uses the well-established bogeyman of the “Russian threat”.
Microsoft engineers scanned the 220 million internet domain names to find a few domains that seem to have some similarities with known product names or known institutional names. The search found my-iri.org, hudsonorg-my-sharepoint.com, senate.group, adfs-senate.services, adfs-senate.email and office365-onedrive.com. These names, Microsoft claims, could potentially be mistaken for the names of known entities and could thus be used for login spoofing or email fishing campaigns.
Microsoft claimed that these domain names were trademark infringements of its office product, as well as of the conservative Hudson Institute, the International Republican Institute and the U.S. Senate. A judge agreed and allowed the company to seize the domain names. They now redirect to Microsoft honeypot servers. Any attempt to access them will be logged.
Its public relation department held a press conference and managed to spin a scare story of a “Russian threat” around the seized domain names. It did not provide any evidence or explanation how the seized domain names might or might not be related to “Russia”. Journalists were pointed to a blog post by Microsoft’s president which includes some mumble about “Russia” and “elections” they could pick for quotes. After apparently scaring the bejesus out of the stenographing scribes, the company made sure to emphasize the offer that, if taken up, will give its strategic intelligence department valuable internal insights into election campaigns.