Celebrities on message platforms used in pro-Russian propaganda

Celebrities are tricked to provide video messages that are used in pro-Russian propaganda. The videos were manipulated to falsely paint Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a drug addict, Microsoft’s latest security report shows. 

“Unwitting American actors and others appear to have been asked, likely via video message platforms such as Cameo, to send a message to someone called “Vladimir”, pleading with him to seek help for substance abuse”, Clint Watts – General Manager, Microsoft Threat Analysis Center, writes in a blog post. 

“The videos were then modified to include emojis, links and sometimes the logos of media outlets and circulated through social media channels to advance longstanding false Russian claims that the Ukrainian leader struggles with substance abuse.” 

The company’s Threat Analysis Center has found seven such videos since late July, featuring personalities such as Priscilla Presley, musician Shavo Odadjian and actors Elijah Wood, Dean Norris, Kate Flannery, and John McGinley.

“Since Russian forces launched their spring 2023 offensive in Ukraine, Russian intelligence-affiliated cyber actors have concentrated their efforts on intelligence collection from Ukrainian communications and military infrastructure in combat zones, and from Ukraine’s partners.” 

“Sophisticated Russia-affiliated influence actor Storm-1099 has historically targeted Western European countries, especially Germany, but has now shifted focus to Israel and the U.S., reflecting an increased prioritization of content on the Israel-Hamas war, U.S. political themes, and the 2024 U.S. presidential election.”

“Storm-1099 assets pushed the false claim that Hamas acquired Ukrainian weapons on the black market for its October 7 attack on Israel.” 

Looking forward, Watts writes that Russian cyber and influence operators will aim to demoralize the Ukrainian population and degrade Kyiv’s external sources of military and financial assistance, along with possible winter attacks on Ukraine’s energy sector.

“Elsewhere, the 2024 U.S. presidential election and other major political contests give malign influence actors an opportunity to degrade support for Ukraine-supporting political candidates.” 

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