Facebook shut down accounts linked to Russian intelligence in summer 2016
Facebook shut down accounts linked to hackers widely believed to be operating on the Russian government’s behalf before the 2016 presidential election, CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to tell Congress this week.
In summer 2016, Facebook identified accounts linked to APT 28, a cyber espionage group also known as “Fancy Bear” that the U.S. intelligence community and some private security firms have linked to Russian military intelligence or the Russian government, according to Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony released on Monday.
Zuckerberg will testify that the accounts “created fake personas that were used to seed stolen information to journalists” under the name of DCLeaks, in reference to the website that published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in summer 2016.
“We shut these accounts down for violating our policies,” Zuckerberg will say.
The U.S. intelligence community has accused the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence arm, of using DCLeaks, the Guccifer 2.0 persona, and WikiLeaks to release hacked Democratic emails in the months leading up to the election.
The Washington Post reported last September that Facebook’s cybersecurity team found evidence of APT 28 setting up accounts on behalf of DCLeaks and hacker persona Guccifer 2.0 beginning in June 2016 and that the company had notified the FBI of the activity.
Facebook at the time did not publicly confirm the Post’s reporting and has not acknowledged it shut down the accounts, until now.
According to Zuckerberg, Facebook began to understand the full scope of the activity when investigating after the 2016 vote, uncovering “coordinated networks of fake accounts” that were used to interfere with the election.
Facebook publicly revealed last September that it unknowingly sold $100,000 in political advertisements to Russia-linked accounts ahead of the 2016 election. The company also identified and shut down hundreds of accounts linked to the so-called Internet Research Agency (IRA), a shadowy Russian operation that aimed to spread divisive political and cultural content to U.S. audiences as part of Moscow’s broader interference campaign.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted several Russians linked to the IRA on fraud and conspiracy charges.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee released Zuckberg’s prepared remarks in advance of the scheduled hearing on Wednesday, which is expected to delve into the controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica and its acquiring data from 87 million users of the platform as well as Russian efforts to leverage Facebook as part of its broader interference operation.
Zuckerberg will appear before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees on Tuesday before testifying before the House panel on Wednesday.
“Leading up to Election Day in November 2016, we detected and dealt with several threats with ties to Russia,” Zuckerberg will tell House lawmakers.
“After the election, we continued to investigate and learn more about these new threats. What we found was that bad actors had used coordinated networks of fake accounts to interfere in the election: promoting or attacking specific candidates and causes, creating distrust in political institutions, or simply spreading confusion,” he will say.