Russian-backed fake accounts ousted by Facebook

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Social media giant, Facebook has announced that it has dismantled three networks of fake accounts that could have been used by the Russian intelligence to leak hacked documents as part of its attempts to interrupt the forthcoming US election.

According to Facebook, the accounts were suspended for the use of false identities and other forms of inauthentic activities that were connected to the Russian intelligence group and individuals related to the St. Petersburg-based group accused by US officials of working to manipulate the 2016 presidential vote.

A request for comment was not addressed by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Russia has consistently rejected election interfering accusations and has declared that it does not intrude with other countries’ domestic politics.

Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy, Facebook said, “there was no immediate evidence that hacked documents were about to be leaked, but by suspending the accounts Facebook hoped to prevent them being used in any subsequent operation”.

He further added that “Our team watches for the threats and trends that we need to be ready for, and one that we are very aware of … is a hack-and-leak operation, particularly in the next 6-8 weeks. We want to make sure that the accounts are down to prevent their ability to pivot them to facilitate a hack-and-leak around the U.S. election.”

Facebook stated the networks, which have only a few accounts on the social media platform and its photo-sharing service Instagram, and some of them are free media outlets and think tanks. The accounts have a total of 97,000 followers.

The audience in Britain and the United States were aimed for some of the operations but the primary focus countries of the network for their activities, were countries like Syria, Turkey, Ukraine and Belarus in the Middle East and bordering Russia, the social media giant said.

Twitter Incorporation said it had operated with Facebook to identify and exclude 350 accounts maintained by state-linked organizations in Russia.

After the FBI suggested that foreign actors and cybercriminals were likely to spread false information about the November 3 election results, both companies said they have found one of the networks.  Microsoft Corporation claimed earlier this month that Russia, China and Iran-related hackers were attempting to spy on individuals affiliated with US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

To analyze the suspended accounts, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab Graham Brooke worked with Facebook. He said that Russia was continuing its attempts to increase political tensions in the United States and elsewhere.

He added, “That doesn’t dismiss the fact that the scale and scope of domestic disinformation are far greater than what any foreign adversary could do. But Russia’s efforts remain an extremely serious national security vulnerability.”