North Korea hackers going after Russian targets, Microsoft says

FILE PHOTO: Man holds laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture

By Raphael Satter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korean hackers targeted Russian diplomats and successfully breached a Russian aerospace research institute earlier this year, Microsoft Corp said in a blog post published Thursday.

Microsoft did not identify any of the victims by name and provided little by way of details or evidence, but said the hacking took place in March.

"North Korean threat actors may be capitalizing on the opportunity to conduct intelligence collection on Russian entities due to the country's focus on its war in Ukraine," the report said.

North Korea's mission to the United Nations did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment. The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an email.

Spying on rivals' military and diplomatic organizations is standard operating procedure for the hacking squads employed by the world's intelligence agencies. North Korea has repeatedly been accused of deploying hackers against defense and diplomacy-related targets in South Korea, the United States and elsewhere.

But allegations that Pyongyang is spying on its Russian allies are potentially more awkward as the countries draw closer amid the war in Ukraine.

Last month, Reuters and researchers at cybersecurity firm SentinelOne Inc revealed how North Korean spies had broken into a major Russian missile developer for at least five months last year - putting them into position to gather intelligence about Russia's hypersonic missiles and rocket propellant technology.

Microsoft's allegations were made in a report about cyberespionage in East Asia, which also covered previous reporting by the American tech giant about Chinese hackers targeting U.S. critical infrastructure as well as new allegations about China's propaganda operations, which it said Beijing had "continued to scale up" using artificial intelligence and influencers.

The Chinese embassy did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Beijing routinely denies allegations of cyber subterfuge.

(Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Stephen Coates)