Foreign adversaries using AI to push disinformation, crumble election process, US warns

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The documented reports and research of foreign propaganda campaigns align with new private sector analysis about recent efforts to flatline U.S. election confidence.

China, Russia and Iran are deploying propaganda campaigns backed by generative AI tools in a bid to erode public confidence in U.S. elections and exacerbate partisan tensions among voters ahead of November, a report from law enforcement and intelligence officials warns.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI said in the guide released Wednesday that such influence operations have often involved phony social media profiles that engage with groups and sow domestic divisions, which sometimes involve building followings from real online users.

Generative AI technology has made those efforts much easier, the agencies said. While election interference attempts are not entirely novel as compared to 10 years ago, new consumer-facing AI tools and other offerings available on dark web platforms, which are subject to less legal oversight, have helped foreign spin doctors make their campaigns sound more realistic and pervasive.

The guidance collates media reports and research findings from the past few years that document what the agencies call a persistent effort by foreign mouthpieces who have crafted robust attempts with AI tools to push harmful political propaganda. One cited instance involved a news website run by Russian propagandists that mixed real news coverage with Russian disinformation.

Another documented method has involved typosquatting, where the spinsters sneak tiny, difficult-to-notice typos into popular social media URLs which are actually links to cloned, fake versions of the websites. Other tactics have included manufacturing false evidence of cybersecurity incidents and voice cloning, which was already seen in the New Hampshire primary earlier this year. 

“We are putting out this guide because our strategy in combating this threat starts with awareness and collaboration. We will continue to relentlessly pursue bad actors looking to disrupt our election infrastructure,” said FBI counterintelligence division acting assistant director Joseph Rothrock.

The Treasury Department last month sanctioned two Russian companies for deploying a network of over 60 fake news websites that impersonated legitimate European news outlets, marking a major U.S. push to clamp down on Kremlin information operations that aim to sow doubt about domestic politics.

Those efforts have accelerated the last 45 days, a Microsoft report out Wednesday said, which noted that the new activity out of Moscow has focused on dismantling U.S. support for Ukraine.

Those efforts have involved covert but robust circulation of anti-Ukraine propaganda on forged media sites, the company said, noting that their webpages like 50 States of Lie cover U.S. political news but promote content on divisive social and geopolitical debates. 

Chinese government-backed operatives deployed a slew of fake social media personas and engaged with real-life accounts on the X platform to assess U.S. domestic issues and learn what political themes divide voters, Microsoft previously found.