FireEye announced that it has uncovered a suspected influence operation that appears to originate from Iran aimed at audiences in the Middle East, US, UK and Latin America. This operation is leveraging a network of inauthentic news sites and associated social media accounts to promote political narratives in line with Iranian interests.
These narratives include anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as support for specific U.S. policies favourable to Iran, such as the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA).
The company claims that they have identified inauthentic news sites and social media accounts are not transparent in their origins and affiliations, undertake deliberate efforts to mask these origins, and often use false social media personas to promote their content. The content published on the various websites consists of a mix of both original content and news articles appropriated, and sometimes altered, from other sources.
The assessment is based on a combination of indicators, including site registration data and the linking of social media accounts to Iranian phone numbers, as well as the promotion of content consistent with Iranian political interests.
The cyber security firm says it has identified multiple Twitter accounts directly affiliated with the sites, as well as other associated Twitter accounts, that are linked to phone numbers with the +98 Iranian country code. The report further claims the perpetrators are masquerading as American liberals supportive of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, and engaged in online activities heavily promoting Quds Day, a holiday established by Iran in 1979 to express support for Palestinians and opposition to Israel.
FireEye report said, “the activity we have uncovered highlights that multiple actors continue to engage in and experiment with online, social media-driven influence operations as a means of shaping political discourse. These operations extend well beyond those conducted by Russia, which has often been the focus of research into information operations over recent years.”
Our investigation also illustrates how the threat posed by such influence operations continues to evolve, and how similar influence tactics can be deployed irrespective of the particular political or ideological goals being pursued.