Pro-China news campaign used fake websites to spread propaganda: Mandiant

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Dozens of news websites operating in the United States, Europe, Asia and elsewhere that claim to be independent are part of a massive propaganda effort to “disseminate content strategically aligned with the political interests of the People’s Republic of China,” according to a new report from cybersecurity firm Mandiant.

On Thursday, the company announced that it had detected at least 72 fake sites and several fake social media accounts that are part of a vast information operation that publishes harshly critical articles on topics such as the president’s trip. American Nancy Pelosi in Taiwan. Mandiant said he believed the sites were linked to public relations firm Shanghai Haixun Technology Co. and dubbed the campaign “HaiEnergy”.

Some accounts linked to the campaign also posted fabricated content, such as letters allegedly sent by Senator Marco Rubio’s office to anthropologist Adrian Zenz, a prominent critic of China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. In a tweet from a now-suspended account, three images of the fabricated letters attempted to ‘smear’ anthropologist Adrian Zenz by suggesting he received funding from Rubio and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, as well as the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. .

Several websites and other social media accounts linked to the disinformation campaign “promoted the same letters and mentioned the Jonas Drosten Twitter character” who shared the fabricated images. Mandiant said he thought Jonas Drosten was a made-up character.

Fabricated letters shared on social media were incorporated into reports published by the sites. Image: Mandiant

The Chinese Embassy in the United States and Haixun did not respond to a request for comment.

The operation promoted a wide range of content attacking opponents of the Chinese government and primarily targeted the United States and its allies. The websites included names such as “Austria Weekly”, “Focus on Russia”, “Egypt Daily” and “Jakarta Globe”.

A Ukrainian-language article, for example, claimed that many Ukrainians had died as a result of experiments carried out in American biolabs. Some sites criticized Chinese virologist Yan Limeng, who fled to the United States after suggesting that COVID-19 was created in a Chinese government laboratory, and claimed she was contributing to Asian hate crimes in the United States. United States.

Although the operation appears to be large and sophisticated, the researchers pointed out that it was not a great success.

“Despite Haixun’s advertised capabilities and global reach, there is at least some evidence to suggest that HaiEnergy has failed to generate substantial engagement,” the Mandiant researchers said. “Most notably, despite significantly high follower numbers, the political messages promoted by inauthentic accounts that we attribute to this campaign have not gained much traction outside of the campaign itself.”

Nathaniel Brubaker, the director of Mandiant’s intelligence team, wrote on Twitter that HaiEnergy is separate from another recently observed Chinese information campaign known as Dragonbridge. Although both promoted similar narratives and eventually formed echo chambers, Dragonbridge used social media accounts on genuine platforms to post comments and photos, while HaiEnergy mainly relies on websites and inauthentic accounts.

“This lack of amplification from external sources, much like what we typically observed with Dragonbridge, limited the ability of campaigns to burst, essentially forming an echo chamber,” the researchers wrote.

Adam is the founding editor of The Record by Recorded Future. He was previously a cybersecurity and privacy reporter for Protocol, and before that, he covered cybersecurity, AI, and other emerging technologies for the Wall Street Journal.

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