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Expert opinion: How fake is our news?

There has been a growth in toolkits and services designed to propagate the spread of misinformation

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Rick Holland, vice president, strategy, Digital Shadows
XPRESS

Dubai: Hardly a day goes by without reports saying that social media is being used to spread fake news and misinformation to influence everything from elections, mining approvals and even Brexit. But how hard is it to spread this sort of misinformation? Twitter accounts can suddenly come out of nowhere and attract tens of thousands of followers and retweets in a matter of hours associated with particular misinformation campaigns.

For example, in October 2016 an ideologically motivated hacktivist group called Anonymous Poland published documents it claimed it had stolen from a breach of the Bradley Foundation, a US charity. Over the ensuing week almost 15,000 nearly identical tweets posted by approximately 12,000 Twitter accounts, featuring links to tweets about the Anonymous Poland breach were identified.

Disinformation campaigns can take many forms; however, they generally follow three distinct stages: 1) Creation, 2) Publication and 3) Circulation. For each stage, there are countless online tools, software and platforms to allow attackers to create credible and effective disinformation campaigns.

In recent years, there has been a growth in toolkits and services designed to propagate the spread of misinformation – available for just $7 – that are aimed specifically at causing financial and reputational damage.

There is a myriad of drivers that will affect how disinformation campaigns evolve in the upcoming years. It’s almost certain that disinformation will continue; the geopolitical situation shows no signs of easing, and there is plenty of sociocultural unease to exploit. While there will be continued efforts to remove suspicious content from social media sites, the low barriers to entry and innovation of threat actors will lead to an increase in disinformation.

There are some steps businesses can take to lessen the risk of disinformation:

-Combat domain spoofing - organisations should proactively monitor for the registration of malicious domains and have a defined process of dealing with infringements when they occur.-

-Combat the ‘bots’ - monitor social media for brand mentions and seek to detect the ‘bots’ though it’s not always immediately obvious, there are often clues such as looking at the age of the account, content being posted etc.

-Monitor forums for information that could manipulate the share price - organisations should search for mentions of their brand or staff across forums, which could be instances of malicious actors spreading disinformation

-Monitor trending activity as it relates to an organisation’s digital footprint and potentially identify disinformation activity.

- The writer is vice-president, strategy, Digital Shadows

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