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Russia-Linked ‘Ghostwriter’ Disinformation Campaign Tied to Cyberspy Group

A widespread disinformation campaign dubbed Ghostwriter is believed to be the work of a state-sponsored cyber-espionage group, cybersecurity firm FireEye reported on Wednesday.

A widespread disinformation campaign dubbed Ghostwriter is believed to be the work of a state-sponsored cyber-espionage group, cybersecurity firm FireEye reported on Wednesday.

Initially detailed in July 2020 but ongoing for years, the campaign aligns with Russian interests and was initially observed targeting audiences in Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland with NATO-related themes.

Since FireEye’s initial report on Ghostwriter, the activity has expanded with new narratives, and the attackers started leveraging compromised Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts of Polish officials to disseminate content aimed at creating domestic political disruption in the country.

Between October 2020 and January 2021, FireEye’s researchers identified five new Ghostwriter operations conducted in both Polish and English, but which were not aligned with previous activity that relied on compromised websites, spoofed emails, fake personas, and NATO-themed content.

One Ghostwriter operation that did fall in line with previously observed activity promoted for several days in October 2020 content suggesting that NATO was getting its military ready for a war with Russia, and that the battle would take place in Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. The narrative was promoted via a fabricated article published on several websites, but compromised social media accounts of Polish officials were also used to disseminate the story.

“We assess with high confidence that UNC1151, a suspected state-sponsored cyber espionage group, conducts at least some components of Ghostwriter influence activity; current intelligence gaps, including gaps pertaining to website compromises and the operation of false personas, do not allow us to conclusively attribute all aspects of the Ghostwriter campaign to UNC1151 at this time,” FireEye says.

The group tracked by FireEye as UNC1151, which has not been linked to any known threat actor, has been running operations aimed at credential harvesting and malware delivery through spear phishing attacks. The credentials stealing attacks targeted government, military, and media organizations in Poland, Ukraine, and Baltic countries, but the group was also observed attempting to compromise the accounts of other entities of interest, including journalists and activists.

Using a wide infrastructure that includes domains mimicking web services, as well as subdomains that spoof resources of legitimate organizations, the group is believed to have targeted thousands since 2017, including at least one Ukrainian journalist, one Belarussian blogger, and multiple German individuals. Furthermore, the adversary employed phishing for the distribution of malware such as HALFSHELL.

Related: Twitter Shuts Down Four Networks of State-Sponsored Disinformation Accounts

Related: Facebook Closes Disinformation Accounts Linked to French Military

Related: US Officials: Russia Behind Spread of Virus Disinformation

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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