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Iran could be ramping up a fake news campaign

Scott Tong Jan 8, 2020
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Protesters hold pictures of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Jan. 5. Yasin Akgul/AFP via Getty Images

Iran could be ramping up a fake news campaign

Scott Tong Jan 8, 2020
Protesters hold pictures of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Jan. 5. Yasin Akgul/AFP via Getty Images
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There are some signs that tensions between the U.S. and Iran could be de-escalating. President Trump said today there were no casualties from the recent Iranian missile strike and that the U.S. is “ready to embrace peace.”

But there’s more than just a physical war to worry about.

Iranian hackers have proven to be good at online disinformation. The U.S. government and big corporations are guarding against Iranian cyber attacks, including online propaganda.

This morning Americans heard U.S. troops were withdrawing from Kuwait. Except they weren’t; Kuwait’s state news agency said its Twitter account was hacked.

That could have come from Iran, according to assistant teaching professor at Georgetown University, Ben Buchanan.

“We don’t know with certainty that those have been traced to Iran, but it would seem to fit the fact pattern reasonably well,” Buchanan said. 

A pattern of cyber propaganda that’s been spread through social media, like fake Facebook accounts. Buchanan said this helps rally support within Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

On Twitter yesterday, word spread that there were dozens of U.S. casualties in Iraq. Again, false, but it was effective for awhile, said Kanishk Karan, a research associate with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab.

“There were more than 40,000 tweets and it was trending in the United States,” Karan said. “It came as a message in a disinformation way from the Iranian state media, but it caused a lot of misinformation in the United States.”

Iran has inflicted more traditional digital pain, too — hacking into U.S. corporate servers, deleting files and taking down websites. Former Pentagon undersecretary Jim Miller, now a fellow at Johns Hopkins, worries about certain companies.

“One is the financial sector, which they have gone against in the past. The [second is the] electrical grid. And the third is getting into the information and communications technology sector, to disrupt communications,” Miller said.

U.S. intelligence reports say Iran lags behind China and Russia in hacking. But analysts say its cyber army can worm into networks and attack when ready.

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