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Report: Russian Govt. Using Fake News Sites to Spread Propaganda In Europe

Created at 12.December 2020, 16:00 | Category: News

Network of European websites aims to spread disinformation, German media report says

Wladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Source: kremlin.ru)

Russian intelligence agencies have created a network of websites posing as newspapers in order to spread propaganda in Europe, an investigation by German media found.

The investigation by Netzpolitik.org and Berlin-based newspaper, Welt, said Russian intelligence agencies created a fake news site called “Abendlich Hamburg” to propagate conspiracy theories in the German language. It was one of several propaganda websites in Europe with connections to a media network financed by the Russian secret service, the report said.

“The text of the articles sounds like a poor translation of articles from Russian propaganda vehicles,” authors Daniel Laufer and Alexej Hocksaid wrote. “Despite sloppy websites and unprofessional layouts […] the propaganda made it into the mainstream.”

Disinformation sites designed to sway European readers

The report said Russian intelligence authorities used the German page and a pan-European network of fake news websites to influence local audiences on topics like the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was linked to Russian-military backed rebels in Ukraine. Other topics included the Syrian Civil War and Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

According to Netzpolitik and Welt, the following sites were either operated by or received financial support from Russian intelligence agencies: 24-7 News, Britisherald, The Capital News in the UK; La tarde republicana in Spain; Courier Parisien in France; Abendlich Hamburg in Germany; Szeged Hírek in Hungary; Pravdorub in Moldova; Infoprof in Russia.

The fake German news site “Abendlich Hamburg” was run by a 22-year-old, Russian-speaking programmer based in Luhansk, Ukraine, who also created a Chrome browser plug-in for Russian-government propaganda website “News-Front”, Netzpolitik and Welt said.

Pro-Russian websites used Domain Name Servers to Obscure Origins

Netzpolitik and Welt queried a Domain Name System (DNS) called Cloudflare, which funnels web visitors through its own servers to make it harder to detect where traffic originates. In so doing, the German news sites determined that the DNS server responsible for “Abendlich Hamburg” was named “Candy” and “Zeus” on Cloudflare’s system. Netzpolitik and Welt then looked for other internet domains which contained this random combination of “Candy” and “Zeus.” After doing this, they could see that several suspicious websites were operated by the same operators.

German politicians said they weren’t surprised by the Russian propaganda websites.

“Many fake news stories around COVID-19 can be traced back to Russia and China,” Tiemo Wölken, a German member of the European Parliament, told Netzpolitik and Welt. “It’s like in the Wizard of Oz. The powerful wizard is really just an old man operating a machine from behind the scenes.” (Posteo News)