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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Monday, April 23, 2018

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As France prepares to elect its president, Macron camp blocks pro-Kremlin media from campaign trail

Moscow is largely seen to be backing Marine Le Pen

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PARIS, France - As French presidential frontrunner, centrist Emmanuel Macron’s campaign catches pace, reports have now revealed that his campaign has denied accreditation to the Russian media.

The candidate’s team is said to have blocked Russia Today and Sputnik from gaining accreditation, claiming that the pro-Kremlin outlets publish misleading information. 

In a statement, Macron’s spokesman confirmed that the accreditation applications had been refused.

Meanwhile, the decision was met with massive outrage in Moscow, with the country’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova describing the move as ‘scandalous.’

Sputnik and RT (Russia Today) were created by the Kremlin for foreigners and are available in several languages.

Both the outlets also have a French language website.

In a statement, Zakharova said that the necessary requests had been made by Russia media and as "other foreign media have not faced any obstacles, we consider these prohibitory measures to be targeted and open discrimination.”

Earlier this year, Macron's spokesman Benjamin Griveaux had accused the Kremlin of mounting a "smear campaign" via state media against the centrist candidate, who is a staunch defender of the European Union.

The campaign publicly complained of being targeted by Russia-linked electronic spying operations, although it offered no proof.

Moscow is largely seen to be backing Macron's rival in the presidential race, right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen.

Ahead of the April 23 first round vote in the French Presidential Election, Le Pen met the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a surprise visit to Moscow.

Further, earlier this week, a cyber-security research group warned that Macron's campaign had been targeted by a group of Russian hackers last month. 

Security firm Trend Micro said that the hackers that were behind the Democratic National Committee (DNC) email breach appeared to have carried out similar attacks against French and German leaders.

According to the report by Trend Micro, Macron has faced attacks similar to the DNC breach. 

It said that the hacking group known as Fancy Bear, APT 28 and Pawn Storm attacked French and German targets using similar phishing schemes. 

Ed Cabrera, chief cybersecurity officer at Trend Micro said in the report, “Pawn Storm has been making these types of attacks for a long time – we wrote our first report about them in 2014.”

Trend Micro has said that the attackers contacted the Macron campaign using the domain “onedrive-en-marche.fr”. En Marche!, or “Forward!”, which is a nickname of Macron’s political party, Association pour le renouvellement de la vie politique. 

It explained that the domain would, therefore, appear to be the En Marche! account for Microsoft’s file-hosting service, OneDrive.

Drawing similarities, it said that in the DNC case, the hackers used the domain “actblues.com,” which was meant to be confused with the Democratic fundraising site ActBlue.

Mounir Mahjoubi, Macron campaign's digital director has reportedly confirmed the attempted cyberattacks but said the hackers had been thwarted.

Mahjoubi added that several of the candidate’s staffers had received emails leading to the fake websites, but the phishing emails were quickly identified and blocked, and it was unlikely others went undetected.

Trend Micro researcher Feike Hacquebord said the firm recently found four Macron-themed fake sites being set up on web infrastructure used by Pawn Storm, that is also known as Fancy Bear, APT28, and Sofacy.

Mahjoubi even revealed that the attempts to penetrate the Macron campaign date back to December. 

Macron is set to face Le Pen in the contentious French presidential race in May.

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