Russian ops target US elections as battle over false info begins

Microsoft has found evidence that Russian operators are already hard at work trying to influence US elections. This is as the US and Italy on Wednesday officially announced a joint venture in the battle against election misinformation.

Microsoft also mentioned that Chinese influence operations were not too far behind, but both nation’s state-sponsored cyber influence gangs have had a slow start as compared to efforts in 2016 and 2020.

“Russian efforts are focused on undermining US support for Ukraine while China seeks to exploit societal polarization and diminish faith in US democratic systems,” wrote Microsoft’s Clint Watts in a company blog post on Wednesday.

Watts, General Manager at the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center, wrote the blog as an introductory piece to the newly released Microsoft Threat Intelligence Election Report.

The report touches upon the ramping up of Russian and Chinese influence campaigns, the so far limited activity involving Iran, and predictions about the integration of AI into election disinformation antics.

Russian US Election influence campaign 1
Russian operative Storm-1099 created US-focused websites posting election-related content. Image by Microsoft Threat Intelligence Election Report.

Not surprisingly, Russian ops are focusing on controlling the narrative to US audiences about the Russia-Ukraine war by criticizing Ukraine using “traditional and social media and a mix of covert and overt campaigns,” said Microsoft.

Microsoft tracked one actors three part Russian influence operations process explained as follows:

  1. Create and post a fake video with election misinformation on social media.
  2. Russian media pushes global coverage of the fake story on their global reach news outlets.
  3. The false story is disseminated organically across social media by Expats, foreign travelers, and Russian officials, gaining full influential traction.
Russian  US Election influence campaign 2
Russian operative Storm-1516’s process for laundering disinformation into US audience spaces. Image by Microsoft Threat Intelligence Election Report.

Unlike Russia, the Microsoft report says China’s deception campaigns have turned to AI integration as a precursor to the help drive organic traffic.

The Chinese nation-state backed actors are “leveraging generative AI technologies to effectively create and enhance images, memes, and videos,” Microsoft said.

China  US Election influence campaign
CCP-linked sock puppet accounts posting US-focused election content while posing as American voters. Image by Microsoft Threat Intelligence Election Report.

Pact to fight election misinformation

Meantime, over in Italy, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani announced a new coordinated effort to counter the spread of misinformation and fake news articles by foreign governments.

The two nations met Wednesday to discuss the 8-page pact during a a three-day meeting of Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministers held on the island of Capri, Italy.

The catalyst for the agreement was a US report detailing Russia’s multi-faceted efforts to erode public faith in US elections through cyber espionage and social media influence campaigns.

Part of the pledge includes creating a shared database of detected manipulation activities, and the use of AI tools to help in preventing the spread of fake news on social media.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on as Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani speaks to media at the State Department in Washington, U.S. June 12, 2023. Image by Mandel Ngan | Reuters

The two countries also committed to help other EU nation targeted by foreign election influence campaigns.

Belgium had conformed it was currently investigating Russian attempts to influence an upcoming European Parliamentary election.

Russia has repeatedly denied ever intervening in foreign elections vowing last month to avoid meddling in the upcoming US Presidential elections happening in November.

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