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How hackers use tech to influence elections

 The hackers use sophisticated technology that is difficult to detect. [Getty Images]

Disinformation actors and hackers are using advanced technology to blackmail, spy, and spread disinformation, which is becoming increasingly difficult to detect.

Using tools available to them, bad actors are able to hack email accounts, track phone numbers, intercept communication and even trace bank accounts.

Some of these tools were used in Kenya during elections in Kenya last year, according to an Israeli disinformation specialist Tal Hanan.

The technology deployed is sophisticated enough to deceive checks put in place by social media companies to detect fake accounts.

Hanan demonstrated to reporters how technology is used to create fake accounts on social media sites which are then used for disinformation purposes.

He showed the journalists the tools used in online influence operations which includes creating almost undetectable fake online personas who are then used to spread disinformation.

He cited use of fake social media accounts, digital surveillance, hack-and-leak smear campaigns, influence operations, disinformation, and election interference and suppression .

The operation has three stages: gathering intelligence, constructing a narrative, and deploying for maximum impact.

One of the key tools is Advanced Impact Media Solutions (AIMS), an advanced disinformation system capable of creating and deploying fake accounts without detection.

It allows for real accounts to be created for nonexistent people and use pictures of real people.

Because it does not use AI generated photos, the fake accounts are difficult to spot.

Another tool, Profiler is an open source intelligence (OSINT) tool which allows the user to find potential profiles of a subject on social networks, as well as their email addresses.

The tool can scrape social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter.

According to the investigation, feeding Profiler a target’s phone number could find its SIM card’s ID - or its “international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI).”

This data can then be used to geolocate the sim card via the international roaming system. The tool could even go as far as intercept communications.

By using Profiler, the actors can reveal the email address and mobile number behind an anonymous email address, trace the owner and reveal their identity.

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