Influence campaign from Iran is huge, report says

Our problem with fake accounts is much bigger than we thought.

Zoey Chong Reporter
Zoey is CNET's Asia News Reporter based in Singapore. She prefers variety to monotony and owns an Android mobile device, a Windows PC and Apple's MacBook Pro all at the same time. Outside of the office, she can be found binging on Korean variety shows, if not chilling out with a book at a café recommended by a friend.
Zoey Chong

The problem isn't just on Facebook. It's on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube too.

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Facebook may have removed hundreds of fake accounts originating from Iran that are part of an influence campaign, but new findings have shown the operation is far bigger.

An "apparent" influence campaign from Iran designed to mislead and manipulate public opinion globally by spreading disinformation is "significantly bigger" than previous findings have shown, Reuters reported Tuesday.

A "sprawling network" of unnamed websites and social media accounts in 11 different languages including English are involved in the operation, according to the publication's analysis, which also identified dozens of these sites and accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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Upon review, cybersecurity firms FireEye and ClearSky agreed technical indicators proved these sites and accounts -- called the International Union of Virtual Media -- are part of the same Iranian campaign.The IUVM propagates content online from Iranian state media that aligns with the government in Tehran and hides the source of its information, according to Reuters.

"It's a large-scale amplifier for Iranian state messaging," Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's digital forensic research lab told Reuters.

"This shows how easy it is to run an influence operation online, even when the level of skill is low. The Iranian operation relied on quantity, not quality, but it stayed undetected for years," he added.

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