Facebook Shuts Down Russian Military Intelligence Operations

Facebook has taken down three networks which is alleged is connected to the Russian military, including military intelligence services.

According to a blog post by Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, the networks had not primarily targetted the United States, but there is a concern that accounts like these could be used in Russian influence operations before November’s US presidential election.

The takedown of Russian networks comes as President Vladimir Putin called for an agreement between Russia and the United States to guarantee not to engage in cyber-meddling in each other’s elections.

Russian networks

“We removed three separate networks for violating our policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) on behalf of a foreign or government entity,” explained Gleicher. “These networks originated in Russia.”

Gleicher said that in each case the people coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing.

“Over the past three years, we’ve shared our findings about over 100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behaviour we detected and removed from our platforms,” said Gleicher. “Earlier this year, we started publishing monthly CIB reports where we share information about the networks we take down to make it easier for people to see progress we’re making in one place. In some cases, like today, we also share our findings soon after our enforcement.”

The good new is that the networks Facebook took down targeted many countries around the world and had very limited following.

“We’ve seen deceptive campaigns target journalists and public figures in the past, including as part of hack-and-leak operations,” he wrote. “Hack-and-leak – where a bad actor steals sensitive information, sometimes manipulates it, and then strategically releases it to influence public debate – is one of the threats we’re particularly focused on and concerned about ahead of the November elections in the US.”

“While we have not seen the networks we removed today engage in these efforts, or directly target the US 2020 election, they are linked to actors associated with election interference in the US in the past, including those involved in “DC leaks” in 2016,” he added.

Gleicher explained that removed 214 Facebook users, 35 Pages, 18 Groups and 34 Instagram accounts for violating its policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behaviour on behalf of a foreign or government entity.

“This activity originated in Russia and focused primarily on Syria and Ukraine, and to a lesser extent on Turkey, Japan, Armenia, Georgia, Belarus, and Moldova,” he wrote. “A small portion of this activity focused on the UK and the US.”

So who was behind this?

“We identified this activity as part of our investigation into suspected coordinated inauthentic behaviour connected to the networks we had removed in August 2018 and February 2020,” Gleicher wrote.

“Although the people behind this operation took steps to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation connected these clusters to the Russian military including military intelligence services,” he said.

Gleicher also pointed out that earlier this month, Facebook had dismantled a Russian influence operation after it received a tip off from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

That campaign was linked to a well known Russian news farm, which is known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA). This is an organisation close to the Russian government and it has been previously accused of interference in the 2016 US election.

Putin call

Meanwhile Russian President called for a reset between Russia and the United States and said he wanted an agreement between the two countries to prevent incidents in cyberspace, Reuters reported on Friday.

“(I propose)… exchanging guarantees of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, including electoral processes, including using information and communication technologies and high-tech methods,” he said.

“One of the main strategic challenges of our time is the risk of a large-scale confrontation in the digital sphere,” Putin reportedly said in the Kremlin statement.

“We would like to once again appeal to the United States with a proposal to approve a comprehensive program of practical measures to reset our relations in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT),” he added.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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