UPDATED 18:16 EDT / APRIL 05 2024


Microsoft researchers detail two China-backed disinformation campaigns

Microsoft Corp. on Thursday detailed two China-backed disinformation campaigns that target voters in the U.S. and abroad via social media.

The campaigns were uncovered by the tech giant’s MTAC unit, or Microsoft Threat Analysis Center. It’s a team of researchers focused on uncovering online threats such as state-backed cyberattacks.

The first campaign that Microsoft detailed today has been tracked by its MTAC unit for more than six months. According to the company, the campaign spreads disinformation using a network of fake social media accounts designed to impersonate U.S. voters. Last September, Microsoft revealed that the China-linked threat actor behind the operation had attempted to use the fake accounts to influence the 2022 U.S. midterm elections.

“This activity has continued and these accounts nearly exclusively post about divisive U.S. domestic issues such as global warming, U.S. border policies, drug use, immigration, and racial tensions,“ Clint Watts, general manager at Microsoft’s MTAC unit, detailed in a Thursday blog post.

The fake accounts used in the disinformation campaign post original videos, memes and infographics along with recycled content from high-profile political accounts. Recently, Microsoft observed an increase in posts containing questions about political topics. The company believes the questions are part of an effort to gauge voters’ opinions about key issues.

“This indicates a deliberate effort to understand better which U.S. voter demographic supports what issue or position and which topics are the most divisive, ahead of the main phase of the U.S. presidential election,” Watts wrote.

The second disinformation campaign that Microsoft revealed today is run by a China-backed threat actor dubbed Storm-1376. According to the company, the threat actor’s modus operandi is to “opportunistically jump on events which could serve their strategic interests – such as portraying the U.S. in an unfavorable light.” Storm-1376 often attempts to accomplish its goals using content generated with artificial intelligence tools.

Some of the disinformation distributed by the threat actor targets voters in the U.S., while other posts are geared toward international audiences. Microsoft believes Storm-1376 launched a disinformation campaign focused on Taiwan’s presidential election this past January. “This was the first time that Microsoft Threat Intelligence has witnessed a nation-state actor using AI content in attempts to influence a foreign election,” Watts detailed.

On election day, Storm-1376 posted an AI-generated audio clip designed to imitate former Foxconn Chief Executive Officer and politician Terry Gou. The file contains fake audio of Gou, who participated in the presidential race, endorsing another candidate. Storm-1376 also created AI-generated memes about multiple Taiwanese politicians and officials. 

“With major elections taking place around the world this year, particularly in India, South Korea and the United States, we assess that China will, at a minimum, create and amplify AI-generated content to benefit its interests,” Watts wrote.

Photo: efes/Pixabay

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