Microsoft Headquarters
Microsoft HeadquartersiStock

A hacking group that appears to be linked to the Iranian government has carried out a campaign against a US presidential campaign, Microsoft Corporation said on Friday, according to Reuters.

Microsoft saw “significant” cyber activity by the group that also targeted current and former US government officials, journalists covering global politics and prominent Iranians living outside Iran, the company said in a blog post.

In a 30-day period between August and September, the group, called "Phosphorous" by the company, made more than 2,700 attempts to identify consumer email accounts belonging to specific customers and then attacked 241 of those accounts.

The Iranian government did not issue any immediate comment through state-run media on Microsoft’s statement of any link to Phosphorous.

Microsoft said Phosphorous used information gathered from researching their targets or other means to game password reset or account recovery features and attempt to take over some targeted accounts.

The attacks disclosed by the company on Friday were not technically sophisticated, the blog said. Hackers tried to use a significant amount of personal information to attack targets, it said.

“This effort suggests Phosphorous is highly motivated and willing to invest significant time and resources engaging in research and other means of information gathering,” said Microsoft.

The company has been tracking Phosphorus since 2013 and said in March that it had received a court order to take control of 99 websites the group used to execute attacks.

Microsoft said it had notified the customers related to the investigations and threats and has worked with those whose accounts were compromised to secure them.

Tensions between the US and Iran have risen since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal last May. He later imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran, the latest of which went into effect in November of 2018.

Iran, in turn, has scaled back its compliance with the 2015 deal.

Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied in an interview with NBC that his country would interfere with the US presidential election, saying his government does not have a preference in the race.

Asked about US intelligence which includes Iran among the countries attempting to interfere with the US election, Zarif replied, “We don’t have a preference in your election to intervene in that election.”

“We don’t interfere in the internal affairs of another country. But there is a cyber war going on,” he added.

Zarif cited the Stuxnet computer virus which is blamed for disrupting thousands of Iranian centrifuges in an effort to damage its nuclear program.

Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation, though Israel did not admit to being behind it. A 2012 report said that then-US President Barack Obama ordered the Stuxnet virus attack on Iran as part of a wave of cyber sabotage and espionage against the Islamic Republic.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)