Facebook Announces It Uncovered Attempt To Influence 2018 Midterm Elections, Could Be New Russian Attack

Facebook announced today that it has identified another coordinated disinformation campaign on its platform, The Hill reports.

The social network has discovered dozens of fake accounts and pages believed to be engaging in political activity ahead of 2018 midterm elections. Mark Zuckerberg’s company has identified and removed 32 accounts thus far across Facebook and its sister platform, Instagram.

As the New York Times noted, Facebook was unable to tie the accounts to the Kremlin, but the company told Capitol Hill officials that “Russia was possibly involved,” according to two NYT sources briefed on the matter.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy, wrote the following on Facebook’s corporate blog.

“It’s clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past. We believe this could be partly due to changes we’ve made over the last year to make this kind of abuse much harder.”

Gleicher also wrote that Facebook discovered more than 290,000 accounts following at least one of the fake pages. The most followed of the discovered pages ran about 150 ads for approximately $11,000, on Facebook and Instagram both.

Apart from running ad campaigns, the pages also created about 30 events total, since May 2017, and the largest one had 4,700 accounts interested in attending. Propagandists, Gleicher noted, were more careful in covering their tracks than before, using Virtual Private Networks to conceal and spoof their IP addresses.

Facebook is working together with the Atlantic Council as well as the Department of Justice. Determining who is “behind an action,” as Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy put it, is not an easy task. Bad actors can attribute activity to an owner of a random IP address, so Facebook has implemented various techniques to determine responsibility.

In doing this, Facebook’s two main objectives are linking suspicions activity to a particular group and tying a specific bad actor to a real-world sponsor, Gleicher wrote. However, these relationships are difficult to determine, so the company relies on four methods for attributing activity to cyber actors: political motivations, coordination, TTPs (Tools, Techniques, and Procedures), and technical forensics.

Facebook, Gleicher concluded, will “not contribute this activity to any one group right now,” and the company vowed to continue their hunt for bad actors sowing division and spreading propaganda via their platform.

The New York Times additionally noted that American law enforcement officials have been warning for months about Russia’s efforts to undermine democracy and influence 2018 midterm elections. Cyber operations used during the 2016 election campaign are still in use today, according to government officials.