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Fake news being offered ‘as a service’
November 26, 2017, 4:19 pm

Fake news, which has generally been associated with the political sphere where it is usually executed for ideological purposes, has now apparently taken on commercial dimensions. New research by digital risk monitoring firm, Digital Shadows, reveals that the sales of toolkits and services aimed specifically at causing financial and reputational damage for companies, is a growing trend among criminals.

One instance of such nefarious activity is the growth on the dark web of so-called ‘Pump and Dump’ services. The service works by gradually purchasing major shares in altcoin (crypto-currencies other than Bitcoin) and drumming up interest in the coin through posts on social media. The tool then trades these coins between its multiple accounts, driving the price up, before selling these to unsuspecting traders on currency exchanges looking to buy while share prices are still rising. An analysis of the bitcoin wallet of one such popular service noted that it received the equivalent of $326,000 from criminals in less than two months.

Similarly, Digital Shadows identified over ten services that allow user to download software, which controls the activities of social media bots. These work by controlling large numbers of bots — armies of computers that the individuals control — to post on specific types of forums on different topics.

Unsurprisingly, media organizations are a particular target of purveyors of fake news. Digital Shadows analyzed the top 40 global news websites and checked over 85,000 possible variations on their domain. In doing so, it discovered some 2,858 live spoof domains. Simply by altering characters on a domain and by using cloning services it is possible to create a fake website of a legitimate news organization that looks realistic.

Retailers too were prime targets. One managed service offers ‘Amazon ranking, reviews, votes, listing optimization and selling promotions’ with pricing ranging from $5 for an unverified review, $10 for a verified review, to a $500 monthly retainer.

Organizations should proactively monitor for the registration of malicious domains and have a defined process of dealing with infringements when they occur. They should also monitor social media platforms for brand mentions and seek to detect the ‘bots’ through the content being posted, and the number of friends and followers.

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