Threat Watch

Google Announced the Takedown of Ten Influence Operations in Q2, 2020

China/Russia/Iran/Tunisia: A report published this morning by Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) revealed that the group identified and took down ten influence operations that were being spread on their platforms. The influence operations were identified by both Google and third-party organizations that shared the information with Google. The ten operations were being run by nations that have been known to participate in online influence operations–including China, Russia, and Iran. One of the identified Russian operations appears to have been a continuation of the six-year-long operation called “Secondary Infektion” [sic]. A small number of the campaigns were focused on supporting spam campaigns rather than being politically motivated and appeared to be linked to a single campaign out of China, which may be a resurgence of the old Spamouflage Dragon campaign. One surprising inclusion on the list of nations participating in Influence operations was Tunisia. The majority of the operations were politically motivated, targeting users online throughout Europe, North America, the Middle East, and the Far East. The influence operation tied to Tunisia, dubbed Operation Carthage, was associated with a public relations firm rather than a government organization and was focused on influencing the Tunisian presidential election.

ANALYST NOTES

This instance highlights the need for information security organizations to coordinate and share information for the protection of the public. Influence operations and misinformation campaigns have been a valuable tool for governments and intelligence organizations around the world throughout history. The rise of global communications and social media have made these operations much easier to spread. As users on social media continue to regularly share links to videos and articles without doing their due diligence to research the facts, it allows these types of operations to spread further and faster. While the inclusion of a public relations firm from Tunisia is unique, it is not surprising considering public relations firms and marketing agencies specialize in aiding organizations in influencing public opinion and “winning people over.” This makes them a valuable tool to assist in any influence operation. It is important to always consider sources when looking at information online and evaluating the validity and trustworthiness of the source rather than trusting it at face value.

More information on this incident can be found at:
https://www.zdnet.com/article/google-discloses-new-takedowns-of-influence-ops-on-its-sites/
More information on Secondary Infektion can be found at: https://secondaryinfektion.org/report/secondary-infektion-at-a-glance/
More information on Spamouflage Dragon can be found at: https://public-assets.graphika.com/reports/Graphika_Report_Spamouflage_Returns.pdf
More information on Operation Carthage can be found at: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/operation-carthage-002.pdf