Russian troublemakers have once again tried to divide US voters and discredit democracy by targeting the midterm Congressional election. As reported by AP, the activity focused on the abuse of social media, through fake American-looking posts and sites rather than mass cyber attacks or the attempted disruption of voting systems. So far, it is more modest than the influence campaign Russia is accused of carrying out in 2016. Currently, US officials and tech companies are trying to improve election security and fight online disinformation campaigns. Here are four areas where officials say Russians have tried to intervene in the midterms.
First, funding trolls. One Russian has been charged by US officials with interference in the 2018 midterm election campaign. Elena Khusyaynova, a bookkeeper with the Internet Research Agency, is accused of a covert social media campaign used in both the 2016 and 2018 campaigns in the United States. She is accused of buying social media ads in 2015, including on Facebook and Instagram, and buying Internet services, including VPNs, which help mask online activity. The complaint says that the proposed operating budget she oversaw was more than $35 million from January 2016 till June 2018, including $10 million in the first half of this year.
Second, the Russian troll factory's owners, the Federal News Agency, registered three domain names in April aimed at the US market, according to the SPARK-Interfax database. The websites all lead readers to a site called USAReally, aimed at showing American audiences news that has been "hushed up" by the mainstream media. In recent days, its focus has been on the migrant caravan weaving through Latin America, on tight congressional races and includes an effort to recruit Megyn Kelly, whose show on NBC was cancelled amid controversy over her comments on blackface Halloween costumes. It is not clear how serious this offer was.
Third is the tricky tweets. Even after the February indictment by US authorities of a dozen Russians linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), it has continued to work on tricking US audiences through tweets, including seeking to mobilise activists to participate in street demonstrations. In October Twitter released millions of tweets and other content targeting Americans that it said came from the IRA, both from the 2016 race and continuing through the summer of 2018, well into the US midterm campaign.
Examples of tweets include those from @TEN_GOP, which pretended to be Tennessee's Republican party and posted a photo of the then FBI Director, James Comey, with the words "resign now."
Finally, probing candidates. Microsoft executives said recently that the company had detected attempts by Russia's GRU military intelligence agency to hack into the campaigns of two senators. Microsoft has also disabled a number of Russian-launched fake websites disguised as US think tanks and Senate sites.