French safety specialists establish Moscow-based disinformation community

French safety specialists establish Moscow-based disinformation community

French navy and cybersecurity specialists say they’ve recognized a Moscow-based community spreading propaganda and disinformation in western Europe.

France’s Viginum company, which was arrange in 2021 to detect digital interference from overseas entities aimed toward influencing public opinion, says Russia is paving the best way for a brand new wave of on-line manipulation within the run-up to the European elections and different essential votes this yr.

The company says the net community, which it has named “Portal Kombat”, consists of at the very least 193 websites disseminating pro-Russian propaganda defending the Russian invasion of Ukraine and criticising the federal government in Kyiv. A lot of the disinformation directed by way of social media websites and messaging apps is focusing on these propagating conspiracy theories, it mentioned.

Viginum researchers, who recognized and analysed the community between September and December final yr, say the mass disinformation marketing campaign could be traced again to Moscow. One pro-Russian channel on the French Telegram cell and desktop messaging app is publishing “nearly constantly” as much as 9 articles an hour.

The European Fee, Nato and UN businesses have ranked disinformation among the many greatest threats to democracy in 2024. At a latest high-level convention in Brussels, a senior Nato official mentioned disinformation was now being categorized as a “nationwide safety difficulty” and there was a recognition amongst allies that hybrid assaults utilizing disinformation “may attain the extent of an armed assault”.

The UN’s communications secretary common, Melissa Fleming, instructed the convention that “disinformation [is] getting used to create not simply the fog of struggle, however extra suspicion, and extra hatred” and was undermining peacekeeping forces.

Addressing the convention, the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, mentioned this new warfare was “not about bombs that may kill you” however about phrases and concepts “that may colonise your thoughts”.

The websites linked to the disinformation community don’t produce authentic materials however have been set as much as flood the web with materials from Russian and pro-Russian figures on social media, Russian press businesses and different official accounts loyal to Moscow, French defence specialists say.

Because the Russian invasion of Ukraine two years in the past, the websites have focused Russian communities in Ukraine and “a number of western international locations”, together with France, Germany, Austria, Poland, Spain the UK and US.

The Viginum report, launched on Monday, states: “Though this community of at the very least 193 websites initially coated information from Russian and Ukrainian localities, it modified the day after Russia invaded Ukraine and began to focus on occupied Ukrainian territories, then a number of western international locations supporting Ukraine and its inhabitants.

“The principle goal appears to be to cowl the Russo-Ukrainian battle by presenting positively ‘the particular navy operation’ and denigrating Ukraine and its leaders. Very ideologically oriented, this content material repeatedly presents inaccurate or deceptive narratives.”

The report mentioned the community additionally “straight contributes to polarise the Francophone digital public debate”. To succeed in a large viewers, it selects “pro-Russian propaganda sources in line with the focused locality, large automation within the distribution of content material, or search engines like google and yahoo optimisation”.

Viginum says the propaganda marketing campaign entails three “ecosystems”, certainly one of which makes use of the web site title pravda adopted by the nation code top-level domains (fr, de, pl, es, com), arrange in June 2023 and located to have “similar technical traits: a standard IP handle hosted on a server positioned in Russia”.

“Moreover, these websites broadcast content material with related pro-Kremlin narratives, notably concerning the supposed legitimacy of ‘the particular navy operation’, denigrating Ukraine and its leaders, or criticising ‘the collective West’,” it says.

One other community of internet sites focused primarily Russian-speaking audiences in Ukraine and was arrange between 3 April 2022 – simply over a month after the Russian invasion – and 17 December 2022. “Some websites goal very particular and strategic areas, similar to Kherson or Mariupol,” the report says.

Though a lot of the propaganda is targeted on the Ukraine battle, Viginum says final summer time the French Pravda web site revealed materials on “totally different crises” involving the presence of French troops within the Sahel, together with these in Niger and Gabon.

Nonetheless, safety specialists say the mass propaganda and disinformation marketing campaign seems to be having restricted success: the typical site visitors on the 5 portals in November 2023 was 31,000 visits, the one focusing on France being the least visited.

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