Facebook issues warning about Russian 'hack-and-leak' operations ahead of the 2020 election

  • Facebook issued a warning Thursday of potential "hack-and-leak operations" by the Russian government ahead of the 2020 US election.
  • "Hack-and-leak — where a bad actor steals sensitive information, sometimes manipulates it, and then strategically releases it to influence public debate — is one of the threats we're particularly focused on and concerned about ahead of the November elections in the US," Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Facebook, said in a blog post.
  • In the last presidential election, Russian government operatives working to elect Donald Trump created fake news outlets to disseminate emails stolen from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
  • "Our team at FB saw such activity in 2016 and reported it to the FBI," Alex Stamos, the company's former chief security officer, wrote on Twitter. "The Facebook post indicates that this might be happening again." 
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Be on the lookout for another Russian government hack-and-leak operation ahead of the US presidential election, Facebook warned this week after removing dozens of pages and hundreds of accounts linked to Kremlin disinformation campaigns.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of security policy, announced in a September 24, blog post that the social media company had uncovered state activity on its network that "originated in Russia and focused primarily on Syria and Ukraine," two countries where Moscow is currently at war. 

Other targets included US antifascists, or "Antifa," which one page — that Facebook said was maintained by associates of Russian intelligence — portrayed as a movement that believes the United States "was founded on white supremacy, and therefore needs to be destroyed."

The removal comes weeks after Facebook identified another cluster of Russian state influence operations, including one ostensible news organization, "Peace Data," that targeted US progressives and recruited left-of-center freelance writers with the promise of $200 a post, as Business Insider reported.

But Facebook's announcement came with a warning about a future influence campaign, akin to the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and release of stolen emails through Wikileaks, that could be far more effective.

"We've seen deceptive campaigns target journalists and public figures in the past, including as part of hack-and-leak operations," Gleicher wrote. "Hack-and-leak — where a bad actor steals sensitive information, sometimes manipulates it, and then strategically releases it to influence public debate — is one of the threats we're particularly focused on and concerned about ahead of the November elections in the US."

Gleicher stressed that Facebook has not yet seen such a campaign on its site. Rather, the activity it has identified "is linked to actors associated with election interference in the US in the past."

However, Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook, suggested on Twitter that the warning was presumably based on something the company was seeing.

In the last presidential election, intelligence operatives working to elect Donald Trump created ostensibly independent, activist-oriented news outlets, such as "DCLeaks," to disseminate emails stolen from the Hillary Clinton campaign, as detailed in the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's report on Russian election interference.

"Our team at FB saw such activity in 2016 and reported it to the FBI," Stamos wrote. "The Facebook post indicates that this might be happening again." 

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