Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Threat Intelligence

9/2/2020
05:30 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Facebook & Twitter Remove Russian Accounts Spreading Disinformation

The Russia-backed Internet Research Agency has returned with new strategies to sway voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Facebook and Twitter have removed social media accounts linked to the Russia-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA), which has returned with new efforts to sway Americans in the 2020 presidential election using a fraudulent news website and several fake social media profiles. 

The IRA is a Russian organization known for its massive operation to influence the results of the 2016 election with disinformation tactics. Researchers with Graphika who analyzed its latest activity say it's using new methods to achieve a familiar goal: to persuade voters away from the campaign of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, similar to its efforts against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Related Content:

Election Security's Sticky Problem: Attackers Who Don't Attack Votes

A Mix of Optimism and Pessimism for Security of the 2020 Election

Over the past three years, Facebook has removed about a dozen deceptive campaigns linked to people connected with the IRA, the company states in its latest Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB) report. Its recent investigation into IRA accounts followed a tip-off from the FBI, which warned Facebook about the IRA network's off-platform activity.

As part of its disinformation efforts, the IRA created a website called peacedata[.]net, which was disguised as an independent news outlet working in both English and Arabic. The network seemed designed to target progressive and left-wing readers in the United States and United Kingdom, with personas masquerading as left-wing reporters and editors, Graphika reports.

The personas on PeaceData each had profile pictures generated by artificial intelligence (AI) and maintained a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Researchers note this is the first time IRA accounts were seen using AI-generated avatars, marking "an apparent attempt to appear more convincing."

Unlike the personas' profile photos, however, the people writing PeaceData content were real. The website employed "apparently unwitting individuals, typically novice freelance writers, to write its articles." Between February and August 2020, the website published more than 500 articles in English and more than 200 in Arabic. Some were original works, while others were copied.

To maintain its left-wing image, Peace Data published and shared pieces about race protests across the US, corruption, and suffering caused by capitalism, the researchers report. Articles criticized both right-wing and center-left politicians while endorsing progressive and left-wing policies. The site focused on a small number of political groups including Democratic Socialists, environmentalists, and "disgruntled Democrats in the United States." 

"This shows a consistent focus on a core constituency: left-leaning voters in the United States and United Kingdom who may be dissuaded from supporting the more centrist leadership of the Democratic and Labour parties," Graphika researchers state in a report. The group's activity suggests it was trying to develop a left-wing audience and steer it from the Biden campaign.

This marks the smallest IRA effort exposed to date. Facebook found 13 IRA accounts and two pages on its platform, with a combined following of around 14,000 – one-twentieth of the following an IRA account called "Black Matters U.S." built in 2016. Most of the 14,000 followed the Arabic-language page, while the English-speaking follower count was in the low hundreds.

Twitter has suspended five accounts "for platform manipulation that we can reliably attribute to Russian state actors," the company said in a statement. The accounts were linked to PeaceData, it said; their tweets were low-quality and most received little engagement. Twitter says links to content from the PeaceData site will be blocked from being shared going forward.

"This was an operation in the early stages of audience building, taken down while it was still finding its feet," the researchers say. Its Web articles received few reactions, and its social media posts generally did not spark much engagement. Researchers suggest the operation's greatest success – if it had one – was its ability to hire unwitting writers to create articles for PeaceData.

With the 2020 election only two months away, social media companies are under pressure to detect and block disinformation before it spreads. Earlier this year, Facebook shut down hundreds of Russia-linked pages and accounts related to two disinformation operations. Both Facebook and Twitter have announced new policies to fight the problem, including labeling posts that might contain false or manipulated information or fully removing problematic content.

 

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Commentary
Ransomware Is Not the Problem
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  6/9/2021
Edge-DRsplash-11-edge-ask-the-experts
How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?
John Bock, Senior Research Scientist,  6/7/2021
News
New Ransomware Group Claiming Connection to REvil Gang Surfaces
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  6/10/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-0532
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
In memory management driver, there is a possible memory corruption due to a race condition. This could lead to local escalation of privilege with no additional execution privileges needed. User interaction is not needed for exploitation.Product: AndroidVersions: Android SoCAndroid ID: A-185196177
CVE-2021-0533
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
In memory management driver, there is a possible memory corruption due to a race condition. This could lead to local escalation of privilege with no additional execution privileges needed. User interaction is not needed for exploitation.Product: AndroidVersions: Android SoCAndroid ID: A-185193932
CVE-2021-26461
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
Apache Nuttx Versions prior to 10.1.0 are vulnerable to integer wrap-around in functions malloc, realloc and memalign. This improper memory assignment can lead to arbitrary memory allocation, resulting in unexpected behavior such as a crash or a remote code injection/execution.
CVE-2021-0478
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
In updateDrawable of StatusBarIconView.java, there is a possible permission bypass due to an uncaught exception. This could lead to local escalation of privilege by running foreground services without notifying the user, with User execution privileges needed. User interaction is not needed for explo...
CVE-2021-0504
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-21
In avrc_pars_browse_rsp of avrc_pars_ct.cc, there is a possible out of bounds read due to a missing bounds check. This could lead to remote information disclosure over Bluetooth with no additional execution privileges needed. User interaction is not needed for exploitation.Product: AndroidVersions: ...