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The 2018 midterms may already be lost to hackers

The 2018 midterms may already be lost to hackers
[Photo: Louis Velazquez/Unsplash]

Google said Thursday it has uncovered evidence of a broad, coordinated disinformation campaign on its platforms by entities linked to Iranian state media. The company joins Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft, each of which reported similar activity earlier in the week.

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Google says the technical data (like domain names, account metadata, and subscriber information) it has gathered on said actors is “strongly linked” to the IP address space used by the IRIB, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

The Iranian actors Google found were sharing English-language political content in the United States while concealing their connection to the IRIB.

“[T]he effort was carried out as part of the overall operations of the IRIB organization, since at least January 2017,” Google’s SVP of global affairs, Kent Walker, wrote in a blog post Thursday.

Google said Iranian actors have been known in the past to engage in politically motivated phishing attacks, Gmail phishing attempts, and man-in-the-middle security attacks.

Google says it terminated numerous accounts linked to the IRIB:

  • 39 YouTube channels that had 13,466 total U.S. views on relevant videos
  • 6 blogs on Blogger
  • 13 Google+ accounts

Google says it’s sharing its findings with other tech companies and with relevant government and law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Google is the fourth major tech company to report coordinated attacks on their platforms with the possible intent of influencing or disrupting the 2018 midterm elections:

  • Facebook said Wednesday it had shut down hundreds of pages and accounts operated by Iran- and Russia-backed accounts that concealed their true identities
  • Within an hour of Facebook’s announcement, Twitter said it had suspended similar accounts on its platform.
  • Microsoft said Tuesday it had discovered that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations, as well as three others that spoofed U.S. Senate sites.

Discussions about the threat of foreign hacking on the U.S. electoral system changed this week. The question is no longer “Is it happening (again)?” but rather how broadly and how effectively.

Facebook’s former security chief Alex Stamos had this to say in a blog post Thursday:

“In some ways, the United States has broadcast to the world that it doesn’t take these issues seriously and that any perpetrators of information warfare against the West will get, at most, a slap on the wrist. While this failure has left the U.S. unprepared to protect the 2018 elections, there is still a chance to defend American democracy in 2020.”

The tech companies are doing their best to instill confidence, but in the security realm, it’s easier to attack than defend, especially when there is still an appetite in America for content that provokes and misinforms.

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