While Russian influence operations have received enormous media coverage in the United States and Europe, American cybersecurity firm FireEye has now exposed a similar operation waged by Iran.
Like the Russian operations, the Iranian government is using fake websites and social media accounts to promote Iranian government interests and denigrate its perceived opponents. Because consumers of social media are more likely to retransmit information from sources they trust, modern information warfare techniques involve setting up websites, social media pages and accounts that appear to be from individuals who share the consumer’s values and priorities, when in fact they are actually the creations of a hostile foreign entity, such as an intelligence agency, a vendor, or an allied organization.
Fire Eye’s experts conducted excellent work in exposing Russian information operations both in terms of successful attempts to penetrate the computer networks of American individuals and political parties, as well as social media campaigns designed to amplify existing social tensions in the United States.
The Iranian operations focus on using fake news websites and social media accounts to promote narratives unfriendly to Saudi Arabia and Israel, while promoting the US-Iran nuclear deal. Read the report: Suspected Iranian Influence Operation.
A common tactic employed by the Russians and Iranians is to establish fake social media accounts which appear to have characteristics similar to members of their target audience. Many of the posts from these accounts do not concern political issues, but rather are designed to be interesting while seeming to share the ideological perspective of the target audience. In the Russian case, paid advertising was used to promote these fake accounts, including Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, to expand their following.
Over time, as these fake accounts gain the trust of their targets, posts are generated pushing a particular narrative, which in turn is rebroadcast, or shared, by those following the fake accounts.
Everyone online should take greater care in validating information they share on their own accounts, and be conscious of the fact that foreign powers hostile to the United States and our allies continue to experiment with new techniques to manipulate public opinion in democratic countries.