Facebook culls accounts amid new coordinated election interference campaign
Facebook has just revealed it has removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram. It claims these "bad actors" were part of a "coordinated inauthentic" campaign similar to actions perpetrated by Russian sources in the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election. No source for the accounts has been tracked yet but Facebook is working with law enforcement agencies to investigate further.
Facebook's head of cybersecurity, Nathaniel Gleicher revealed that the company identified the suspicious sources two weeks ago. Eight Pages, 17 Facebook profiles, and seven Instagram accounts have been implicated in the campaign. Set up between March 2017 and May 20187, only four of the pages resulted in substantial followings but in the end over 290,000 individual users were following at least one of the pages.
Much like the previously revealed suspicious activity preceding the 2016 election, these new actions were broad and bipartisan, promoting both left and right causes. One of the more active pages suspended was called Resisters, and according to several images released by Facebook was primarily concerned with unifying anti-Trump supporters.
Gleicher suggests these new "bad actors" used much more sophisticated techniques to elude detection than were previously employed. The accounts were accessed through virtual private networks (VPNs) and thousands of dollars in ads were run using third party payment methods.
A statement from Mark Zuckerberg alludes to possible Russian involvement in the suspicious activity, "We're still investigating what happened, but whoever created this network of accounts took a lot of effort to hide their real identity so we don't yet know for certain who is responsible. That said, some of this activity is similar to what the Internet Research Agency in Russia did before and after the 2016 US Presidential elections."
This latest announcement follows on from a revelation two weeks ago that at least three 2018 congressional candidates have already been targeted this year by hackers. During a panel as part of the Aspen Security forum, Tom Burt from consumer trust and security at Microsoft said phishing attacks similar to 2016 have recently been tracked.
"Earlier this year, we did discover that a fake Microsoft domain had been established as the landing page for phishing attacks, and we saw metadata that suggested those phishing attacks were being directed at three candidates who were all standing for election in the midterm elections," said Burt.
It may be sometime before it becomes clear what the extent of these alleged actions is, or where they are coming from, but it is increasingly clear that information cyberwar is undoubtedly the new battleground of the 21st century.