Hackers with ties to the governments of Russia and Belarus have turned their attention to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February, trying to use Facebook for cyber-espionage and disinformation campaigns, the social network’s parent company, Meta, said Thursday.
Some hackers, who have been focused on disinformation campaigns in Poland and the West, suddenly turned their attention to Ukraine, where they began spreading false reports of a Ukrainian military surrender, Meta executives said. Others blamed NATO for the Russian invasion and accused Ukrainian troops of killing civilians, while amateur hackers and social media users tried to spread disinformation, delete Facebook accounts criticizing the invasion and take advantage of the crisis by through fraud.
“Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have seen a sharp increase in attacks on internet freedom and access to information,” said Nick Clegg, Meta’s president for global affairs. The company has been shuffling in recent weeks to moderate conversations about the conflict on its platform while warding off hackers. Some of the disinformation campaigns also used Twitter, YouTube and Russian social media sites to spread their messages, Meta said.
Ghostwriter, a Belarus-affiliated hacking group, has continued its efforts to hack into the Facebook accounts of dozens of Ukrainian military officials and post fake reports of a surrender, Meta said in a broader quarterly report on cyber-attacks and disinformation on its platform. . The company, which disclosed similar Ghostwriter efforts last month, blocked the group from posting videos of alleged soldiers surrendering, said Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead for influence operations.
Another group associated with the Belarusian KGB, which had focused on spreading disinformation in Poland, shifted its focus to Ukraine when the conflict began and also tried to spread false reports of surrender, Meta said in her report.
Russia’s Internet Research Agency, known for creating deceptive profiles on social media and using it to spread disinformation, set up a website last year to spread reports of police brutality in the West and attempted Facebook Twitter accounts in January and February. set up accounts to access the website’s content, Meta executives said. Meta blocked the profiles, but noted that after the invasion, the group suddenly began making articles blaming NATO for the war in Ukraine and accusing the Ukrainian military of attacking civilians.
Citizens also jumped into the online conflict, Meta said. In Ukraine’s Luhansk region, websites and social media accounts that promoted pro-Russian commentary were taken over by hackers, who redirected their audiences to Telegram channels showing images of Russian victims. And in Russia, users set up a Facebook group that claimed to share cooking tips, but which was then used to massively report profiles criticizing the invasion in an effort to get Facebook to remove them.