Meta blocks pro-Russian hacked accounts targeting Ukrainians

Facebook and Twitter block pro-Russian misinformation groups that are targeting Ukrainians using hacked accounts or fake profiles

  • Meta’s cybersecurity team blocked a series of pro-Russian fake accounts
  • The parent company of Facebook and Instagram said the accounts were targeting Ukrainians with misinformation about the conflict
  • Twitter also banned a series of accounts linked to the offending groups
  • It comes as Google barred a host of Russian state-owned media channels from making ad revenue across its platforms 

The cyber security team at Meta – parent of Facebook and Instagram – has blocked a set of pro-Russian fake accounts and hacked social media profiles that were part of a scheme to undermine Ukraine, the tech giant said Sunday.

The accounts were conducting a campaign of misinformation, pushing content supporting Russian activities and painting Ukraine as a pawn of the West, according to a Meta statement. 

‘They ran websites posing as independent news entities and created fake personas across social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and also Odnoklassniki and VK (Russian social media networks),’ Meta said in a blog post.

In some cases, ‘they used profile pictures that we believe were likely generated using artificial intelligence techniques.’

The small network of Facebook and Instagram accounts targeted people in Ukraine, using posts to try to get people to visit websites featuring bogus news about the country’s effort to defend itself from the invasion by Russia. 

Meta’s statement and decision to block the aforementioned accounts came after Google on Saturday barred several Russia’s state-owned media outlets from receiving money for ads on their websites, apps and YouTube videos.

Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor has also stepped up the battle to control the narrative of the events unfolding in Ukraine.

The regulator partially blocked access to Facebook last week, and this morning demanded that Google remove materials that it said contained inaccurate information about casualties sustained by Russian forces and Ukrainian civilians in the conflict.

The cyber security team at Meta – parent of Facebook and Instagram – has blocked a set of pro-Russian fake accounts and hacked social media profiles that were part of a scheme to undermine Ukraine, the tech giant said Sunday.

Meta head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher (pictured) said the tech giant had taken steps to secure accounts they believe had been hacked by pro-Russian actors. ‘We also blocked phishing domains these hackers used to try to trick people in Ukraine into compromising their online accounts,’ he said.

Meta said it connected the network to people in Russia and Ukraine, as well as media organizations NewsFront and SouthFront in Crimea. The US has identified NewsFront and SouthFront as disinformation outlets that get marching orders from Russian intelligence services (Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured, Feb 27, 2022)

Social media networks have become one of the fronts in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, home to sometimes misleading information but also real-time monitoring of a quickly developing conflict that marks Europe’s biggest geopolitical crisis in decades.

Meta said it connected the network of fake profiles and hacked accounts targeting Ukrainians to people in Russia and Ukraine, as well as media organizations NewsFront and SouthFront in Crimea.

The US has identified NewsFront and SouthFront as disinformation outlets that get marching orders from Russian intelligence services.

The organizations were among more than a dozen entities sanctioned by Washington for trying to influence the 2020 US presidential election ‘at the direction of the leadership of the Russian Government.’

Meta shut down the bogus accounts and blocked sharing of internet addresses involved in the deception, director of threat disruption David Agranovich said in a briefing.

Bogus claims published by the sites include that the West had betrayed Ukraine and that Ukraine is a failed state, according to Agranovich.

Meta head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said that the propaganda campaign aimed to ‘seed stories across the internet that Ukraine isn’t doing well’ by ‘pretending to be journalists based in Kyiv.’

‘The good news is that neither of these campaigns have been that effective, but we do see these actors trying to target Ukraine at this point,’ he said.

Twitter also said it banned more than a dozen accounts tied to the News Front and South Front Russian operation, which were pushing links to a new propaganda site called Ukraine Today. 

Meanwhile, a hacking group called Ghostwriter believed to operate out of Russia has ramped up action against military figures and journalists in Ukraine in recent days, according to Meta’s security team.

Ghostwriter’s typical tactic is to target victims with ‘phishing’ emails that trick them into clicking on deceptive links in an effort to steal log-in credentials.

The goal of compromising Facebook accounts appeared to be to spread links to misinformation, such as a YouTube video falsely contending to be of Ukrainian soldiers surrendering to Russian troops, according to Meta.

‘We’ve taken steps to secure accounts that we believe were targeted by this threat actor,’ said Gleicher.

‘We also blocked phishing domains these hackers used to try to trick people in Ukraine into compromising their online accounts.’ 

Meta’s move to block the pro-Russian fake accounts comes after Google on Saturday barred Russia’s state-owned media outlet RT and other channels from receiving money for ads on their websites, apps and YouTube videos. 

Russian soldiers on the amphibious infantry fighting vehicle BMP-2 move towards mainland Ukraine on the road near Armiansk, Crimea

Ukraine claimed to have shot down a Russian jet over the outskirts of Kyiv overnight, with wreckage falling on a house and leaving several people injured

Citing ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ Google’s YouTube unit said it was ‘pausing a number of channels´ ability to monetize on YouTube,’ – including several Russian channels affiliated with sanctions by the European Union – and added later that it was also barring Russian state-funded media outlets from using its ad technology to generate revenue on their own websites and apps.

In addition, the Russian media will not be able to buy ads through Google Tools or place ads on Google services such as search and Gmail, spokesman Michael Aciman said.

‘We’re actively monitoring new developments and will take further steps if necessary,’ Aciman said.

Russia received an estimated $7 million to $32 million over the two years to December 2018 from ads across 26 YouTube channels it backed, digital researcher Omelas told Reuters at the time.

YouTube has previously said it did not treat state-funded media channels that comply with its rules differently from others when it comes to sharing ad revenue.

The move came following an appeal from Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who said on Twitter he contacted YouTube ‘to block the propagandist Russian channels – such as Russia 24, TASS, RIA Novosti.’ 

Facebook on Friday also restricted Russian state media’s ability to earn money on the social media platform as Moscow’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine reached the streets of Kyiv.

UKRAINE-RUSSIA WAR LIVE: Get the latest news on Putin’s invasion 

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