Cybercrime , Fraud Management & Cybercrime

France Uncovers Russian Disinformation Campaign

'Portal Kombat' Is an Automated Pro-Russian Propaganda Network
France Uncovers Russian Disinformation Campaign
A pro-Ukrainian protester in Warsaw, Poland, on July 27, 2014 (Image: Shutterstock)

The French French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs accused Russia of running a disinformation campaign targeting Kyiv's Western allies ahead of the second anniversary of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

See Also: Live Webinar | Digital Doppelgängers: The Dual Faces of Deepfake Technology

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné announced that France has detected a network of 193 websites aimed at disseminating Russian disinformation.

Russian covert online influence operations are nothing new. U.S. think tank the Rand Corporation in 2016 described the Russian approach to propaganda as a "firehose of falsehood" that uses a great number of channels to disseminate disinformation. The think tank also said Russian propaganda is "rapid, continuous, and repetitive" and "lacks commitment to objective reality" and to "consistency."

Russia increased the already high volume of disinformation it spreads after it initiated the latest Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in late 2022. Researchers at Facebook recently found a Russian disinformation network using advanced obfuscation techniques and likely deploying artificial intelligence to generate mass content in a campaign dubbed Doppelgänger (see: Russia Uses AI, Evasion Tactics in Disinformation Drive).

"Russia is targeting us with hybrid actions, through disinformation, cyberattacks and political interference, with the aim to sow division in our democratic societies," says a joint statement from the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland.

The French agency combating foreign digital interference, Viginum said in a report that the 193-website does not produce original content but reproduces content from pro-Russian social media accounts, Russian news agencies and official websites. The agency dubs the network "Portal Kombat."

One portion of the network consists of five online portals with a domain name that's a variant of "pravda," such as pravda-fr.com or pravda-de.com. Another, which uses the same web design template as the pravda sites, has for its domain name variations of the news.ru domain targeted to Ukrainian readers in specific locations. The news.ru sites appear to have gone online mainly in April 2022, and a handful of others became live in December 2022.

The content on the sites is posted through automation, and the sites use machine translation to translate articles into local languages. The pravda sites don't appear to generate much online interest, Viginum said, adding the average traffic to them in November consisted of 31,000 visits.

Experts have warned that 2024 will likely be a banner year for disinformation across the globe, especially given the unusually large number of elections being held this year as well as marquee events such as the Summer Olympics, which will be held in Paris (see: AI Disinformation Likely a Daily Threat This Election Year).


About the Author

Mihir Bagwe

Mihir Bagwe

Principal Correspondent, Global News Desk, ISMG

Bagwe previously worked at CISO magazine, reporting the latest cybersecurity news and trends and interviewing cybersecurity subject matter experts.




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