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US Takes Down Russia’s AI-Powered Covert Bot Farm Network

US Takes Down Russia’s AI-Powered Covert Bot Farm Network
A seal is seen during a “A Celebration of Second Chances” clemency event in Honor of Second Chance Month in the Justice Department Great Hall at the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday, April 21, 2023, in Washington, DC. Source: Getty Images

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) dismantled a large-scale Russian disinformation operation. The network, run by Russia’s security service (FSB) and state-run media outlet RT, used an AI-powered bot farm to spread pro-Russian messages on social media, primarily targeting the US.

A high-ranking official at RT, referred to as “Individual A,” initiated the project with funding from Moscow. This individual led the development of software capable of creating and operating a bot farm. This software used AI to generate fake social media profiles posing as US citizens, essentially creating a digital army to spread disinformation on a massive scale. Later, an FSB officer assumed control of the bot farm’s operations.

DOJ revealed that Russia’s RT media network began building the AI-powered bot farm in April 2022. Early in 2023, the Kremlin approved and provided financial backing for its further development.

“Today’s actions represent a first in disrupting a Russian-sponsored Generative AI-enhanced social media bot farm,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Russia intended to use this bot farm to disseminate AI-generated foreign disinformation, scaling their work with the assistance of AI to undermine our partners in Ukraine and influence geopolitical narratives favorable to the Russian government.”

US Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasized that the Justice Department’s searches and seizures disrupted a Russian propaganda campaign. This campaign, powered by artificial intelligence, aimed to sow disinformation across American and international social media platforms.

A screenshot of the US Ministry of Justice document with bot farm accounts. Source: JOD
A screenshot of the US Ministry of Justice document with bot farm accounts. Source: JOD

These accounts were spreading debunked narratives and Kremlin talking points about the war in Ukraine, including the false claim that parts of Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania were “gifts” from Russia.

The bot farm relied on AI to create realistic profiles and disguise its activity. It also utilized US-based domain names and email servers, violating both international economic sanctions and money laundering laws. Social media platforms, including Twitter, played a crucial role by voluntarily suspending the identified accounts.

As suggested in the Joint Cybersecurity Adversary report, the identities or so-called “souls” of these bots were determined based on the selection of specific parameters or archetypes selected by the user. Any field not preselected would be auto-generated. Bot archetypes are then created to group ideologically aligned bots using a specifically crafted algorithm to construct each bot’s persona, determining the location, political ideologies, and even biographical data of the persona.

The DOJ is working closely with the FBI and the Cyber National Mission Force, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service, the Netherlands Military Intelligence and Security Service, and the Netherlands Police to identify and dismantle similar disinformation campaigns in the future.

“Today’s action demonstrates that the Justice Department and our partners will not tolerate Russian government actors and their agents deploying AI to sow disinformation and fuel division among Americans,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “As malign actors accelerate their criminal misuse of AI, the Justice Department will respond and we will prioritize disruptive actions with our international partners and the private sector. We will not hesitate to shut down bot farms, seize illegally obtained internet domains, and take the fight to our adversaries.”

Earlier, a network of websites based in Russia masking as US newspapers were reported to have launched an AI-enhanced campaign to spread fake news stories ahead of the upcoming American presidential election, involving a fabricated story alleging that Ukraine’s First Lady, Olena Zelenska, used $4.8 million in US taxpayer funds to purchase a Bugatti luxury car.

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