The Russian group that meddled in the 2016 election (Internet Research Agency) is now using sham accounts and a fake left-wing news site to sow disinformation, according to The New York Times

Although U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning that U.S. adversaries were actively trying to cause major disruptions to the 2020 Presidential Election, Facebook announced in its August 2020 Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior Report, that it had been warned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that a so-called troll farm in St. Petersburg (Russia) has set up a network of fake users and a website. 

This is the first public evidence that the Internet Research Agency is trying to repeat efforts from four years ago. Its key goal appears to be targeting left-leaning voters to turn them against the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris presidential ticket, as well as stirring divisiveness in the U.S.

While the fake network and site did not reach as big of an audience as the group’s campaigns in 2016, notes the report, it came with something new: Russians hired actual Americans to write for the website.The site, called Peace Data, says The New York Times, used personas with computer-generated images to mimic a legitimate news organization. 

“Nation-state actors that target the U.S. will often wage information operation campaigns to inform (or disinform) a populace and influence their thoughts and actions. They will shape a narrative and then "push" that narrative on a targeted audience in efforts to achieve a desired result," says Leo Pate, Application Security Consultant at nVisium, a Falls Church, Va.-based application security provider. "While social media platforms, such as Facebook, are the predominant ways of spreading news and information for legitimate purposes, they also provide avenues for malicious actors to inject their own information into the news cycle on a global scale. By injecting their own false information into news streams, they create confusion for consumers because they don't know what is "real" and what isn't. It is great that Facebook and other social media platforms are developing processes to combat this; however, these efforts are still in the early stages and it will be interesting to see if they mature, or even continue, beyond the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.”

Brandon Hoffman, Chief Information Security Officer at Netenrich, a San Jose, Calif.-based provider of IT, cloud, and cybersecurity operations and services, notes, “As we get closer to the US election, we will see a significant rise in the disinformation campaigns. Examples of this appear as reports, such as the Inauthentic Behavior Report (IBR). While not considered traditional hacking by the commercial world, this type of activity is key in nation state activity and has moved from traditional platforms to social media. America, like it or not, has a significant impact on the world in terms of economy and policy. There is zero doubt that foreign agencies, government and civilian, have an interest in who leads our country and the policy we produce. The easiest way for them to impact us is by influencing the voting body. Disinformation campaigns sit at the heart of influencing voter sway and while technically unethical, the legality of it remains a question. Moving to the other side of the spectrum, once campaigns like this are interrupted, there will assuredly be a spike in more direct influence. By direct influence we mean the notion of hacking individuals, voter databases, voting technology, and the technology systems of political campaigns.”