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Russia-backed actors posed as US, French intelligence agencies to spread online disinformation, report reveals

Designed by Daeun Lee, The Readable

by Kuksung Nam

Jun. 04, 2024
10:24 PM GMT+9

Tech giant Microsoft is accusing Russian-backed bad actors of impersonating intelligence agencies in the United States and France to spread online misinformation targeting the upcoming Paris Olympics. This revelation comes in a report issued by Microsoft, highlighting a potential attempt to disrupt the international sporting event.

On June 2, Microsoft’s security team, the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center (MTAC), exposed a disinformation campaign targeting the upcoming Paris Olympics. The campaign, linked to a Russia-affiliated group known as Storm-1679, involved a fabricated video masquerading as a press release from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The video’s intent, according to MTAC, was to provoke fear of danger and discourage people from attending the international sporting event.

Specifically, a fabricated video, uploaded to social media platform X last February, is spreading fear ahead of the Paris Olympics. The 78-second clip, linked to a Russia-affiliated group, falsely claims the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has intelligence on impending terrorist attacks by radical Islamist groups targeting France and the European Union. To appear legitimate, the video features the CIA’s emblem and an image depicting the agency’s headquarters.

The Russian-affiliated operator, Storm-1679, uploaded a fake press release video depicting the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on X last February. Source: The Readable

Another fabricated video surfaced on Telegram in March, this time posing as the French intelligence agency, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI). This 50-second clip, linked to the same Russia-affiliated group, similarly attempts to mislead viewers. The video falsely claims the DGSI is urging French citizens and foreign spectators to limit children’s participation in the Paris Olympics due to a heightened risk of terrorist attack likely to occur during the event.

The Russian-affiliated operator, Storm-1679, shared a fake video of the French intelligence agency, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI), on a Telegram Channel last March. Source: The Readable

In addition, the Russia-affiliated group, Storm-1679, known for creating fake content in which they impersonate legitimate sources, expanded their disinformation campaign beyond fabricated intelligence agency videos. In January and April, they uploaded fake video clips mimicking the Brussels-based Euro News and French broadcaster France 24 on separate Telegram channels. These videos spread false information related to the Paris Olympics.

While the fake intelligence agency videos are troubling, Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center (MTAC) considers the group’s activity during the Israel-Hamas conflict “the most worrisome.” Last year, social media accounts linked to Storm-1679 posted images of graffiti threatening a repeat of the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attacks, where Palestinian attackers killed eleven Israeli Olympic team members. However, the MTAC report casts doubt on the image’s authenticity, stating they haven’t found concrete evidence that any such graffiti exists in the real world.

Microsoft’s report identified another Russia-affiliated group, Storm-1099, involved in spreading disinformation targeting the Paris Olympics. Since May, MTAC has observed Storm-1099 using fake French news websites (around 15) to publish articles critical of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Games themselves. This tactic is intended to paint a negative picture of the Olympics in the eyes of French readers.

Microsoft is warning that the two Russia-linked groups, Storm-1679 and Storm-1099, who’ve been targeting the Paris Olympics since last June, are likely to continue their efforts. The tech giant’s report expresses concern that these groups aim to spread negativity and fear among international spectators.

“Traditionally, video has been a key weapon in Russia’s online influence campaigns,” the report noted. “While video will likely remain prominent, we expect a shift among bad actors towards using automated social media accounts and online bots among to spread their messages more effectively.”


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  • Kuksung Nam
    : Author

    Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and...

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