Russian cyber operatives are attacking critical American infrastructure such as energy grids, nuclear facilities, aviation systems, and water processing plants, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The report details numerous attempts, since at least March of 2016, where Russian cyber operatives targeted government entities and multiple US critical infrastructure sectors. Cybersecurity researchers at Symantec first described the threat in a report last September, noting the malware may actually be linked to an earlier wave from 2014. Analysis by both the FBI and DHS then confirmed a group of “distinct indicators and behaviors”…
The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a report today detailing Russian efforts to hack into US government entities and infrastructure sectors, including energy, nuclear, commercial, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sector…
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Now that the 2018 Winter Olympics are over, we're now learning who was responsible for hacking the games' systems… and the culprit won't surprise you at all. US intelligence officials speaking anonymously to the Washington Post claimed that spies…
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President Donald Trump used skeptical remarks by Facebook ads executive Rob Goldman as ammunition in a Saturday Twitter tirade, insisting that Russia didn’t influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. On Friday, a federal grand jury indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, alleging illegal interference in the elections in support of Donald Trump. But Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies did exactly what they tell marketers they can do — they let Russia’s troll factory more efficiently deliver disruptive messages to large groups of targeted people than if they had bought TV ads or any other traditional ad campaign. [Peter Kafka / Recode]
A new book about Snapchat contains a juicy story about how Facebook’s earliest efforts to kill the rival communications app backfired — and may have inadvertently saved Snapchat. In “How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story,” former TechCrunch writer Billy Gallagher says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met in 2012 with Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and expressed interest in buying the one-year-old Snapchat; when Spiegel declined, Zuckerberg launched a wannabe Snapchat-killer clone called Poke, which was intended to kill Snapchat for good. Meanwhile, Spiegel sold about $ 50 million worth of Snap stock last week, his first personal stock sale since the company went public last March. [Kurt Wagner / Recode]
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New data from Re:Create shows how much the internet has enabled a new creative economy. Findings show that nearly 15 million people used the Amazon Publishing, eBay, Etsy, Instagram, Shapeways, Tumblr, Twitch, WordPress and YouTube platforms to earn approximately $ 6 billion in 2016. And that’s not even counting key indie platforms like Kickstarter, Patreon, Indiegogo, Wattpad, Bandcamp, Apple, Spotify and others; in 2016 alone, Kickstarter had close to $ 600 million in pledges. [Mike Masnick / Techdirt]
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“The Fake News Media never fails,” Trump added.
President Donald Trump found an unlikely ally in his mission to convince the internet that Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election didn’t actually help get him elected: Facebook advertising executive Rob Goldman.
Goldman, Facebook’s VP of ad products, sent a series of tweets late Friday that said, among other things, that “swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal” of the thousands of dollars of Facebook ads bought by Russian actors during and after the 2016 election.
“Most of the coverage of Russian meddling involves their attempt to effect the outcome of the 2016 US election. I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal,” Goldman wrote Friday.
Most of the coverage of Russian meddling involves their attempt to effect the outcome of the 2016 US election. I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal.
— Rob Goldman (@robjective) February 17, 2018
“The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election,” he continued, linking to this post from Facebook’s blog. “We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Tump and the election.”
The tweets came about 24 hours after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals for “seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election.” Mueller’s report did say that Russia’s social media campaign included “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
Trump pounced on Saturday, retweeting both of Goldman’s tweets and adding his own commentary.
“The Fake News Media never fails,” he tweeted. “Hard to ignore this fact from the Vice President of Facebook Ads, Rob Goldman!”
The Fake News Media never fails. Hard to ignore this fact from the Vice President of Facebook Ads, Rob Goldman! https://t.co/XGC7ynZwYJ
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2018
What went unsaid in these tweets is that there were thousands of posts shared on Facebook and other social networking sites, like Twitter, that were not ads, but still reached millions of potential voters. Facebook said that ads purchased by Russian sources reached 10 million users, but all posts from Russian accounts — including non-ads that were posted for free — reached as many as 126 million users.
Read special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment.
Want to know how Russian nationals used Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms to try to swing the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign for Donald Trump?
You’ll find many of the details in U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s 37-page indictment against 13 Russian nationals, filed today.
You can read the whole thing for yourself at the bottom of this post. But there are two crucial takeaways from the charges Mueller has filed:
- While Facebook, Twitter and other big internet companies spent much of last year cataloging Russia-backed ad spending on their services, the Russian campaign to promote Trump also relied heavily on the use of “organic” services. That is: The Russians set up free, fake accounts and masqueraded as regular users who supported Donald Trump or hated Hillary Clinton.
- Today’s indictment doesn’t make any overt connection between the Russians who worked to support Trump and members of the Trump campaign itself. When the two groups did connect, Trump campaign workers thought they were talking to real people, not Russian imposters.
Mueller is still working on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and other government agencies and congressional committees are also looking into the issue. So this isn’t the final word, by any means. But it’s still an intriguing look into Russia’s efforts to turn some of Silicon Valley’s most powerful platforms into tools to sway an election.
Among the fascinating charges Mueller makes:
- Russia initially started a social media campaign to disrupt “the lawful governmental functions of the United States” by sowing discord in 2014. But by 2016 it had focused on supporting Donald Trump — as well as Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s chief rival for the Democratic Party nomination in that election.
- The Russian team had an annual budget that “totaled the equivalent of millions of U.S. dollars” and focused on “social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”
- Russian nationals reached out to local Trump campaign officials and other Trump supporters, but they did it without telling Trump’s people who they really were: “Posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, [they] communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate their political activities.”
- The Russians created fake accounts and group pages that racked up “hundreds of thousands of online followers … particularly on the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram.”
- They were active on Twitter, as well. The fake @ten_GOP account attracted more than 100,000 followers.
- The Russians used different methods to cover their tracks and bypass various security methods. For instance, they used virtual private networks, so various accounts would appear to be operating from within the United States instead of Russia. And they used stolen identities, using real social security numbers, to set up accounts at PayPal, which they used to pay some of their bills for ads and other expenses — including the construction of a “cage large enough to hold an actress depicting [Hilary Clinton] in a prison uniform” to be used at a Trump rally.
The Mueller indictment spends quite a bit of time showing how various Russian tactics — the use of fake users and groups to dupe real people, the purchase of pro-Trump online ads and on-the-ground activity funded by Russian money — came together to promote a particular set of pro-Trump rallies in Florida.
It’s hard to argue that the particular rallies swayed the election, but the stories make for fascinating reading: For instance, in August 2016, Russians operating a fake Facebook user account reached out, via private message, to a local Trump campaign official in Florida and proposed organizing “a YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every town”:
Days later, the same agents were promoting the campaign with Facebook ads, which reached 59,000 Facebook users in Florida and generated 8,300 clicks from them; they also used fake Twitter and Facebook accounts to hire an actress to portray Clinton in prison garb outside of rallies, and to hire people to make signs and a prison costume.
And within a couple weeks, a real Trump activist in Florida had emailed the fake Trump campaign, suggesting possible locations for rallies.
I’ve asked reps for Twitter and Google for comment. Facebook provided the following statement:
“Today’s news confirms our announcement last year that foreign actors conducted a coordinated and sustained effort to attack our democracy. As we said publicly last year, this kind of foreign interference violates all of our values. These indictments now say it also violated the law.
“We proactively disclosed the IRA activity to the Special Counsel, Congress, and the public, and have worked with them to give the public a fuller understanding of what occurred. We’re grateful the US government is now taking this aggressive action against those who abused our service and exploited the openness of our democratic process.
“We know we have more to do to prevent against future attacks. We’re making significant investments, including increasing the number of people working on security from 10,000 to 20,000 this year. We’re also continuing to work closely with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other companies on better ways to protect our country and the people on our platform. We’re particularly encouraged by the FBI’s creation of a task force dedicated to addressing election interference, and we are actively working with them. We’re committed to staying ahead of this kind of deceptive and malevolent activity going forward.”