Iran, others likely to accelerate disinformation efforts in US: report

Iran, others likely to accelerate disinformation efforts in US: report
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Disinformation specialists in foreign countries are likely to step up their campaigns targeting U.S. voters ahead of the 2020 elections, cybersecurity experts say.

Several cybersecurity experts told The Washington Post that the U.S. is not doing enough to protect social media platforms and other systems from foreign influence.

Researchers told the Post that online influence operations from Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela have the ability and a possible motive to seek to disrupt the next U.S. elections. Experts said it was unclear whether governments or individual actors run the operations, but noted that those behind the online campaigns typically mirror the rhetoric of the ruling powers through tweets, posts and online videos.


“Multiple foreign actors have demonstrated an ability and willingness to leverage these kinds of influence operations in pursuit of their geopolitical goals,” Lee Foster, head of the intelligence team investigating information operations for FireEye, told the Post. “We risk the U.S. information space becoming a free-for-all for foreign interference if, as a society, we fail to get an effective grasp on this problem.”

FireEye researchers and other cybersecurity firms have reported seeing suspected Iranian-based disinformation on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other major platforms.

“I would be surprised if the Iranians weren’t trying to expand their operations for the coming election, especially with the rising tensions between Iran and the United States,” Simin Kargar of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society warned the Post. “They would be far more savvy by 2020.”

Another firm, Graphika, found that among one set of nearly 1,700 Iranian Twitter accounts removed from the site in June, about one-quarter of the accounts' tweets were in English. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE was mentioned in the tweets more than 1,400 times, typically in a critical fashion, according to the firm. 

“The Iranian operations were a wake-up call to remind us that the Russians were not the only ones doing information operations,” Camille François of the New York-based firm Graphika told the Post. 

Twitter's head of site integrity confirmed the removal of hundreds of Iranian-operated accounts in a statement to the Post, while stressing the platform's work to remove fake accounts.

“As part of our public archive of information operations, we have disclosed thousands of accounts and millions of Tweets originating in Iran that we have proactively removed,” said Yoel Roth, according to the Post. “Every year is an election year on Twitter, and we will be applying all of our global learnings to protect and enhance conversations around the 2020 election.”

The report comes after former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE testified before two congressional panels this week, warning that Russia is again trying to interfere in the upcoming U.S. elections.

“It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it the next campaign," he said.

Mueller added that “many more countries” developed similar capabilities, some of which are based on Russia's methods to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that found Moscow began targeting U.S. election systems in 2014. The report concluded that Russia's attacks continued into 2017.