Israeli Cyber Company Uncovered Iranian Influence Campaign on Facebook, before Facebook

Facebook announced Thursday it had “removed 783 Pages, groups and accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior tied to Iran” aimed at influencing public opinion in several countries, including India.”

However, it seems that the Israeli Clearsky Cyber Security, which specializes in cyber intelligence gathering and analysis, has uncovered the Iranian disinformation campaign back in November 2018. In a blog post dated Nov. 30, the company provided an overview of “a large-scale fake news infrastructure promoting Iranian global interests comprised of at least 98 fake media outlets.”

“This multi-language infrastructure targets over 28 countries, authorities and geographical areas (such as Latin America and Western Europe),” Clearsky reported.

“We believe that the infrastructure is operated by an organized group that coordinates various operators such as – editors, writers, graphic designers, web developers, social media specialist and more. Further, many of the content creators are fluent in one or more languages in addition to Persian,” the company added.

Facebook’s announcement on the Iranian campaign came two months after Clearsky’s warning, on January 31, 2019.

“There were multiple sets of activity, each localized for a specific country or region, including Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, US, and Yemen,” Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy said in the announcement.

“The Page administrators and account owners typically represented themselves as locals, often using fake accounts, and posted news stories on current events. This included commentary that repurposed Iranian state media’s reporting on topics like Israel-Palestine relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, including the role of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. Some of the activity dates back to 2010. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our manual review linked these accounts to Iran,” Facebook added.

While Clearky claims that the campaign began in 2012, Facebook says some of the activity dates back to 2010. In any case, the fact remains that this comprehensive campaign has slipped under the radars of all Israeli and other Western security services for years.