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Rep. Chris Stewart 'Not Surprised' Russian Hackers Reportedly Targeted GOP Groups

Chris Stewart interviews in KUER studios.
Kelsie Moore / KUER

Microsoft said it has removed websites created by Russian hackers which targeted two conservative think tanks, including one affiliated with Republican Senate hopeful Mitt Romney.

Romney sits on the board of the International Republican Institute (IRI) along with more than two dozen other notable conservatives, including six Republican Senators. The two-time presidential candidate has been a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Romney's campaign declined to comment.

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, said there is "no question" that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

"So it doesn't surprise me at all that they've targeted Republican institutions" now, he said. "They're going to continue to target Democratic institutions, they're going to continue to target independent organizations."

"This is just how they operate. We need to recognize that and do everything we can to counter it," Stewart said.

Microsoft said Tuesday that hackers tied to the Russian government created fake websites which looked like the websites of the IRI, the Hudson Institute and several U.S. Senate webpages. A Kremlin spokesman has denied the hacking attempts, according to the Washington Post.

"Attackers want their attacks to look as realistic as possible and they therefore create websites and URLs that look like sites their targeted victims would expect to receive email from or visit," Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a blog post.

In a statement, the IRI said it has been targeted before and "actively maintains heightened levels of cybersecurity protection, engages with private security professionals to protect the Institute, and in this case, has proactively interacted with Microsoft."

In June Romney said in an interview with KUER that Russia is "trying to interfere with the electoral process and democracies across the world."

The Alliance for Securing Democracy has recorded several spikes of the hashtag #NeverRomney from Kremlin-linked Twitter accounts.

Congress appropriated $380 million earlier this year to help states shore up election security systems. Utah received about $4 million , which election officials said will be spent on upgrading the state's voter database and replacing some older voting machines.

Though funding helps, Rep. Stewart said, "This isn't a problem that's going to be solved with additional money. It's going to take more than that."

While he didn't go into specifics, Stewart said it helps that most elections are run by individual counties.

"It makes it very difficult to hack one entity and then have influence broadly across the election," he said.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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