Suspected Iranian ‘influence operation’ targets Middle East, US, UK audiences

Groups use bogus news sites and social media accounts to promote political narratives in line with Iranian interests

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Suspected Iranian ‘influence operation’ targets Middle East, US, UK audiences False social media accounts used to promote misleading content.
By  David Ndichu Published  August 23, 2018

FireEye has uncovered a suspected influence operation that appears to originate from Iran aimed at audiences in the Middle East, US, UK and Latin America.

This operation is leveraging a network of inauthentic news sites and associated social media accounts to promote political narratives in line with Iranian interests. These narratives include anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as support for specific U.S. policies favourable to Iran, such as the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA).

“Inauthentic” describes sites that are not transparent in their origins and affiliations, undertake deliberate efforts to mask these origins, and often use false social media personas to promote their content. The content published on the various websites consists of a mix of both original content and news articles appropriated, and sometimes altered, from other sources.

The assessment is based on an investigation by FireEye Intelligence’s Information Operations analysis team. This conclusion is based on a combination of indicators, including site registration data and the linking of social media accounts to Iranian phone numbers, as well as the promotion of content consistent with Iranian political interests, FireEye says.

In addition, the cyber security firm says it has identified multiple Twitter accounts directly affiliated with the sites, as well as other associated Twitter accounts, that are linked to phone numbers with the +98 Iranian country code.

In America, the perpetrators have launched inauthentic social media personas, masquerading as American liberals supportive of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, and engaged in online activities heavily promoting Quds Day, a holiday established by Iran in 1979 to express support for Palestinians and opposition to Israel.

The activity uncovered by FireEye researchers highlights that multiple actors continue to engage in and experiment with online, social media-driven influence operations as a means of shaping political discourse. These operations extend well beyond those conducted by Russia, which has often been the focus of research into information operations over recent years.

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