Home Security Fake news services thriving, Trend Micro study finds

Fake news services thriving, Trend Micro study finds

Underground online marketplaces are selling a range of services designed to help anyone who is looking to distribute fake news and launch a public opinion manipulation campaign, a detailed study by the security firm Trend Micro has found.

The company said that an examination of the English, Russian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern-based marketplaces showed offerings that reflected the regional differences in social and online cultures.

The study found that underground services were not indispensable, as such services were also available in grey and, sometimes, legitimate markets. It detailed the spread of fake news items, online slander, and other means of getting out a message that was untrue.

"High-profile — or even state-sponsored operators — may have their own resources to mount a fake news campaign, but the underground offers a unique advantage: anonymity. Not only does it enhance the spread of fake or propaganda-driven content, but also helps shroud its instigators from accountability," it said.

Fake news was defined as "the promotion and propagation of news articles via social media. These articles are promoted in such a way that they appear to be spread by other users, as opposed to being paid-for advertising. The news stories distributed are designed to influence or manipulate users’ opinions on a certain topic towards certain objectives".

fake news platform One of the marketplaces that Trend Micro detailed was a Chinese one named Xiezuobang. It charged 100 renminbi (about US$15) for a 500 to 800-word article and 200 renminbi for an article than ran to between 1000 and 1500 words.

Additional fees were charged for placing the content, with the amount varying depending on the platform.

Another site mentioned was the Boryou Public Opinion Influencing System which offered to monitor websites and place automatic or manual comments. No fee was mentioned.

Other services offered to boost followers on popular social media platforms, increase the number of page views to specified articles and to get celebrities to post supportive comments, all for a fee.

There were also Chinese sites that offered to remove negative news from other sites, with the charges ranging depending on the popularity of the site in question. Other sites offered to plant fake votes in online polls.

One service known as Higym provided the means to build a click farm that can run as many as 10,000 devices. "The service comes in a package consisting of a physical server, USB hubs that can connect to the phones as well as a Web portal that serves as the console or dashboard for deploying and managing tasks," the study said.

fake news big

"Higym also touts its service to have a screen mirroring feature that entails remote session framerates of 60 fps with 0.01-second delay. The service also claims to be able to spoof GPS, WiFi, and base station location, as well as automate the whole campaign (including clicking and typing) through scripts."

When it came to the Russian underground, crowdsourcing was used to manipulate public opinion, the study claimed. "It works just like any crowdsourcing effort would—funding projects by sourcing them from the contributions of a sizeable number of people—except that the contributions amount to the promotion of profiles, subscribers, and likes. By adopting this model, the barriers of entry for disseminating fake news and manipulating public opinion are practically lowered to completing tasks and promoting other content with little to no monetary capital involved."

An outfit known as SMOService had the following prices for the services specified:

fake news smoservice

Other Russian services like one run by an individual going by the name Siguldin offered to manipulate votes, competition, and polls on social media and other online platforms. "A vote that bypasses IP address, Captcha or other simple authentication costs RUB 1 to RUB 1.5. Voting systems that require authentication via social media will cost RUB 2 to RUB 3, while those requiring detailed online registration cost RUB 3 to RUB 4. For voting systems that require SMS confirmation and more complex authentication methods, the customer is imposed with RUB 5 per vote."

Trend Micro's study also mentioned Middle Eastern fake news services like CoolSouk which offered the capability to make real/live or bot followers. Another named Dr.Followers offered automated promotional services on social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

The Indian site BeSoEasy sells both automation bots and services including an account generator for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. The tools used are also hosted on Github.

Quick Follow Now is English-based and offers followers, retweets, and favourites on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Soundcloud. Another English site, 100kfollowers, sells social media followers and YouTube video views.

fake news 100kfollowers

Trend Micro also found sites that let anyone generate their own news or breaking news, adding, "while these types of websites are only meant for personal recreation and must be taken with a grain of salt—when combined with these underground services, they can be very effective in manipulating a story and leading the public into believing it’s actually authentic".

The study also outlined methods whereby one could spread posts on Twitter and Facebook, using a number of techniques.

Graphics: courtesy Trend Micro.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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