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Facebook users in Australia targeted in disinformation attacks

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Australian Facebook users have been targeted in four highly sophisticated, coordinated attacks on the platform, including one campaign that sought to spread disinformation about Covid-19 through fake news services, a Senate inquiry heard on Friday.

The world’s largest social network was also increasingly being attacked by malicious groups paying “disinfo-for-hire businesses,” Senators heard, to flood users with fraudulent news while hiding their own identities.

The revelations came during the fourth public hearing of the Foreign Interference Through Social Media Inquiry. High-level Facebook employees presented via video link after unexpectedly canceling their appearance last year due to a “scheduling issue” thought the US election.

Facebook security policy global head Nathaniel Gleicher said the tech giant had identified four “coordinated inauthentic behavior” campaigns targeting Australia recently, which he described as “the most sophisticated tool used by determined adversaries like (nation) states”.

The most recent attack, in August 2020, included posts in English and Chinese, he said, and targeted countries including Australia. “It engaged on a range of topics — coronavirus was among the many topics they mentioned,” he said.

“(It) used a network of fake accounts to target public debate in the United States, in Australia, in Europe, and across Southeast Asia. They posed as local and regional media entities to make themselves appear more legitimate.”

Other campaigns targeting Australian Facebook users included attacks on “public debate” and a “financially motivated operation”. The attacks represented four of 150 coordinated disinformation campaigns identified and removed from Facebook in recent years.

But Mr. Gleicher said a new trend was emerging for attackers to pay marketing firms to spread disinformation to Facebook users while hiding the source of the attacks.

“We’re seeing actors that otherwise wouldn’t have the resources or the skills to run an influence operation hiring a firm to do that for them,” he said.

“And in addition, we’re seeing more sophisticated threat actors who use these PR firms basically as a way to launder their identity. We can’t always identify who’s behind it.”

Mr. Gleicher said Facebook was committing more significant resources to identify security risks on the platform. Under questioning, admitted Facebook was “surprised and did not react fast enough” to Russian interference in the US election in 2016.

Facebook Australia public policy head Josh Machin said the company had an “ample appetite” to increase its work with Australian government departments about security threats, particularly in the lead-up to the next federal election.

Executives from Google also appeared before the Senate committee on Friday. Still, the internet giant’s administrative law enforcement and information security matters director Richard Salgado said it had seen no evidence of foreign campaigns trying to influence Australian elections.

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Tristan McCue is a 26-year-old junior programmer who enjoys reading, binge-watching boxed sets, and appearing in the background on TV. He is smart and friendly, but can also be very evil and a bit lazy.He is an Australian Christian. He has a post-graduate degree in computing.
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