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Meta takes down Russian covert influence operation targeting Italy

Russia hacker Italy Killnet
The actors spoofed over 60 legitimate news sites to circulate pro-Russian content in Germany, France, Italy, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. Leading daily Repubblica and State newswire Ansa were among those websites

Caught you red-handed. Facebook owner Meta took down a large disinformation network that originated in Russia and targeted Germany, France, Italy, Ukraine and the United Kingdom with narratives focused on the war in Ukraine.

  • The operation began in May 2022 and centred around a sprawling network of over 60 websites carefully impersonating legitimate websites of news organizations in Europe, including Spiegel, The Guardian and Bild.

Fake it ‘till you make noise. Through these façades, the actors posted original articles that criticised Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, supported Russia and argued that Western sanctions on Russia would backfire – textbook Kremlin talking points.

  • They then promoted such articles, original memes and YouTube videos across several internet services, including Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter, petitions websites Change.org and Avaaz, and even LiveJournal.
  • They operated primarily in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Ukrainian.

A “persistent operation.” Throughout the investigation, as Meta blocked this operation’s domains, the actors attempted to set up new websites, “suggesting persistence and continuous investment in this activity across the internet.”

  • On a few occasions, the operation’s content was amplified by the Facebook Pages of Russian embassies in Europe and Asia.
  • repubblica.life and ansa.ltd were among the flagged domains. They resemble those of the leading Italian-language newspaper Repubblica and the State press agency Ansa.

“This is the largest and most complex Russian-origin operation that Meta has disrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. It presented an unusual combination of sophistication and brute force. The spoofed websites and the use of many languages demanded both technical and linguistic investment.”

  • “The amplification on social media, on the other hand, relied primarily on crude ads and fake accounts. In fact, the majority of accounts, Pages and ads on our platforms were detected and removed by our automated systems before we even began our investigation.”
  • “Together, these two approaches worked as an attempted smash-and-grab against the information environment, rather than a serious effort to occupy it long-term.”

The Chinese-origin influence operation “ran across multiple social media platforms, and was the first one to target US domestic politics ahead of the 2022 midterms and Czechia’s foreign policy toward China and Ukraine.”

  • “Interestingly, this Chinese operation very occasionally picked up on Russian messaging around things like ‘US bioweapons’,” tweeted Meta’s Global Threat Intel Lead Ben Nimmo.

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