“A pro-Chinese government online influence operation is targeting Americans in an effort to exploit divisions over the Covid-19 pandemic,” reports CNN, “and ‘physically mobilize protestors in the US in response,’ according to a new report from cybersecurity firm Mandiant and experts at Google.”
The operation, which initially attempted to discredit pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, has expanded into a “global campaign that’s operating in seven languages, on at least 30 social media platforms and across 40+ website & forums,” experts at Mandiant and Google say, noting parallels to the Russian disinformation campaign around the 2016 presidential election. US officials believe the operation is linked to the Chinese government and have been monitoring its evolution, according to one source familiar with the situation….
[E]xperts have observed an “explosion of activity” across the world and the move to make physical protests happen in the US “demonstrates they are a very serious threat,” Mandiant Threat Intelligence Vice President John Hulquist told CNN… [The report says] “While this attempt did not appear to achieve any success, we believe it is critical that observers continue to monitor for such attempts in case greater degrees of organic engagement are later realized by the network….” While there has been limited engagement with these pro-Chinese accounts, the operation’s massive scope shows the actors responsible have “significantly expanded their online footprint and appear to be attempting to establish a presence on as many platforms as possible to reach a variety of global audiences,” according to Mandiant’s experts….
Cyber espionage from China against the United States has spiked since the Covid-19 outbreak began and Beijing has consistently sought to shape the global narrative through overt and covert means.
Shane Huntley, Director of Google’s Threat Analysis Group, pointed out the scale and persistence of the group (despite its low engagement levels), adding “we’ve taken an aggressive approach to identifying and removing disinformation from this network.”