Malicious Bot Networks Spreading Covid Misinformation Are An Increasing Threat

BACKGROUND:

A new study has warned of a vast network of bot accounts that have been set up to propagate misinformation and undermine critical expert advice on the COVID-19 crisis. Researchers from the University of California San Diego, the George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University assessed the spread of false information in public Facebook groups known to be heavily influenced by bots.

Experts Comments

June 09, 2021
Eric Milam
VP of Research and Intelligence
BlackBerry

While misleading information on social media is often a consequence of organic discussion within communities, this may represent the tip of an iceberg. Research shows that some groups are targeted with misinformation by hack-for-hire criminals – through social media personas, websites and apps – as part of larger campaigns to distort readers’ perceptions of reality. Ultimately, this confusion is a valuable weapon for organised crime groups who wish to manipulate the current geopolitical

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While misleading information on social media is often a consequence of organic discussion within communities, this may represent the tip of an iceberg. Research shows that some groups are targeted with misinformation by hack-for-hire criminals – through social media personas, websites and apps – as part of larger campaigns to distort readers’ perceptions of reality. Ultimately, this confusion is a valuable weapon for organised crime groups who wish to manipulate the current geopolitical fragility for their own gain.

 

BlackBerry’s recent report on the major threat group BAHAMUT discovered a vast web of original, painstakingly crafted websites, applications and personas. In at least one example, the group took over the domain of what was originally an information security news website and began pushing out content focused on geopolitics, research, industry news about other hack-for-hire groups, and a list of “contributors” that were fake – but which used the names and photos of real journalists (including local U.S. news anchors) to appear legitimate. In some cases, the ‘news’ outlets BAHAMUT created were also accompanied by social media accounts and other websites to present a veneer of legitimacy.

 

Social media platforms and government initiatives cannot leave it up to individuals or communities to combat the threat of these counter-intelligence groups. Rather, they must employ new tools in the fight such as Artificial Intelligence if they are to get ahead of the enemy.

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