Hackers post fake stories on real news sites ‘to discredit Nato’
Hackers entered real-world news sites and published fake stories that sparked anti-NATO sentiments, a cyber security company warned.
The disinformation campaign, nicknamed “ghostwriter”, has been underway since 2017, according to FireEye researchers.
It was designed to “escape” from NATO support in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
While the false stories are “aligned with Russian security interests”, it is not known who is behind the attack.
The disinformation campaign uses “news articles, citations, correspondence and other forged documents designed to appear as coming from military officials and political figures in the target countries,” said FireEye.
In some cases, fake news has been posted on real news websites without permission.
News websites typically use a content management system (CMS) to manage the large number of published articles.
Apparently, the attackers got access to the target website’s CMS and replaced the old articles with their own content or published completely new fake articles.
They would have tried to spread the fake stories on social media before they were removed.
In an example from last year, a Lithuanian news site published a fake article claiming that German soldiers had desecrated a Jewish cemetery.
In another, a fake message was posted on the Polish Academy of War Studies website, claiming to be the organization’s commander. He demanded that the troops fight against “the American occupation”.
These attacks have been complemented by other methods – such as opinion pieces and blog posts written by non-existent “journalists”, and fake emails designed to appear to have come from government officials, military officers or journalists.
Some of the attacks had previously been reported by national authorities.
But the FireEye report brought together the various individual attacks in a “broader influence campaign”.
In recent years there has been growing tension between Russia and several NATO members.
Poland has tried to build a permanent military base in the country in the United States, while Russia claims that the arrival of US troops on the move there in recent years is a threat to its security.
Lithuania, once part of the Soviet Union, said it was concerned about a potential threat from Russia and announced plans to build a fence around the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Latvia has a large and vocal ethnic Russian population. A pro-Russian party won the most votes in the 2018 elections, even though it did not join the government.
Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are all members of NATO, founded after the Second World War to balance the threat of communist expansion from the Soviet Union into Europe.