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Exclusive: Russian intelligence operated hundreds of fake news sites in Europe and the US - voila! Technology

2024-02-22T15:02:48.086Z

Highlights: Hacker group linked to Russia spread fake news, anti-Western messages. Report by ClearSky and SentinelLabs reveals hundreds of impersonating news sites in five countries, including a Hebrew site pretending to be "Walla" The network is designed to influence public opinion in the target countries (the United States, Israel, France, Germany), deepen divisions and fears, and increase political tensions. Among the sites that received fake copies of them are well-known news sites such as the "Washington Post"/official site.


A report by ClearSky and SentinelLabs reveals that a known hacker group linked to Russia operated hundreds of impersonating news sites in five countries, including a Hebrew site pretending to be "Walla"


Hacker group linked to Russia spread fake news, anti-Western messages/screenshot, screenshot

In today's Israel, there is a lot of talk about "fake news", and people are quick to label bad or propagandistic journalism as "fake news", but fake news is a very real thing: a report by the cyber intelligence companies ClearSky and SentinelLabs that is published today (Thursday) , exposes a mind influence operation consisting of a network of hundreds of fake news sites, in Europe, in the United States and also in Hebrew by a news site posing as "Walla!" and a site posing as the current affairs magazine "Liberal". in free translation from German), was originally exposed back in 2022, but its infrastructure at the time was disabled, and now a completely new infrastructure of it has been exposed - linked to state-funded Russian hackers.



Cyber ​​intelligence companies have found proof of a connection between the fake news sites and a Russian attack group known as APT28 (Persistent Advanced Threat Group 28) and under the names Fancy Bear or Strontium. This is an old, well-known and notorious attack group, which has been active for about two decades. In the last decade, the group has been carrying out attacks on quality targets around the world, with the aim of promoting Russian interests. The cyber intelligence companies estimate that the complex operation participated Dozens of people, including researchers, writers in different languages, graphic artists and hackers.

A mind-bending operation consisting of a network of hundreds of fake news sites.

In the picture: a page impersonating the Walla! website/official website, screenshot

The network, which is part of Russian information warfare, and is designed to influence public opinion in the target countries (the United States, Israel, France, Germany), deepen divisions and fears, and increase political tensions, was made up of 150 websites and domain names, and included an investment that, according to the researchers, could only be financed by a country.



Among the sites that received fake copies of them are well-known news sites such as the "Washington Post", the German "Spiegel", and a well-known news site in Ukraine called Rbc.

These were reinforced and supported in spreading the messages desired by the Russians by completely fake news and conspiracy sites, such as a fictitious news site in Hebrew called "Omanam", alongside sites with names like ShadowWatch and SpicyConspiracy, whose names really indicate their content.

The third layer of the operation was of course a network of fake social media accounts, which spread the false content.

The Russian attack group made a lot of use of domain names from the top level that are less used, such as .online, .buzz and more, but also more familiar extensions such as .co.uk alongside exploiting and biasing address shortening services.

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Among the sites that received fake copies of them are well-known news sites such as the "Washington Post"/official site, screenshot

"Nazi trap for Israel"

From the analysis of the messages and content of the news on the fake news sites, the theme of the promotion of Russia's interests, and the deepening of internal political divisions and tensions and in foreign relations between the target countries, emerges.

A few examples: the conflict in Ukraine strengthens Russia, Zelensky is compared to a Nazi, US President Biden is weak and incompetent, and claims of cooperation between Ukraine and Hamas.

In Germany, messages based on current events such as criticism of the immigration policy or the widespread workers' strike at the country's airports were highlighted.



The Russian psychological warfare operation spared no effort in our domestic arena either: the hostage deals are a hopeless trap, Israel faces economic collapse, the United States will betray Israel, and CIA agents are helping terrorists.

Another part of the campaign - a fake news site called "Omanam"/official site, screenshot

Among the news published in the fake "Walla" duplicate, you can find headlines such as "Joe Biden is disappointed with Netanyahu", "The USA once again provokes division in the Israeli government and society", "Almost treason: our minister creates problems for Israel" (accompanied by a picture of economics Nir Barkat), "A Nazi trap for Israel" and "Israel will lose an imperialist war and the civil war will begin". Worthy of note, by the way, is the degree of investment in the accompanying graphics and images, which were produced at a completely professional level, including a complete copy of the navigation interface of the (original!) site where You are reading this article, and the credit line "Walla system!

News".



In conclusion, it is worth noting that this is not the first time that Russia has conducted such information warfare operations, and it has conducted several of these in the past decade, including biasing the presidential elections in the United States in 2016, influencing political issues in Europe in 2020, and a pro-Russia campaign in the countries Africa a year ago, in which anti-colonial and pan-African sentiments were at the core, while emphasizing the advantages of maintaining relations with the extreme right-wing circles in Russia, and a campaign against NATO and against the United States in Latin America last November.

Fake site of liberal site/official site, screenshot

These complex psychological warfare operations require great technical and economic longevity and an amount of resources available only to powerful countries and are based on building credibility in the public opinion of the false news sites over a long period of time, which allows the introduction of the messages desired by the Russian government into the public opinion of the target countries of the attack over time and the utilization of Social crisis points, such as the current situation in Israel.

  • More on the same topic:

  • Fake news

  • Russia

Source: walla

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