San Francisco: To protect democratic institutions from hacking attacks ahead of the elections to the European Parliament in May, Microsoft on Wednesday announced the expansion of its AccountGuard programme to 12 more European markets, including France, Germany and Spain.

AccountGuard is a security service offered to users in the highly targeted political space at no extra cost to help them protect themselves from cybersecurity threats.

The software giant claimed to have recently detected 104 targeted accounts belonging to organisations, including the German Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institutes in Europe and The German Marshall Fund.

"At Microsoft, we've seen recent activity targeting democratic institutions in Europe as part of the work our Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) and Digital Crimes Unit (DCU)carry out every day to protect all of our customers. MSTIC continues to investigate the sources of these attacks, we are confident that many of them originated from a group we call 'Strontium'," the company wrote in a blog post.

According to previous media reports, the cyber espionage group Strontium - also known as Fancy Bear and APT28 - is believed to be linked to the Russian military intelligence.

"Attackers in most cases create malicious uniform resource locators (URLs) and spoofed email addresses that look legitimate. These spearphishing campaigns aim to gain access to employee credentials and deliver malware," the post added.