The operation, which began in spring 2022 and aimed to undermine Western support for Ukraine, was uniquely advanced in its use of identity manipulation tactics and its targeted reach.
Most notably, the campaign orchestrated a sophisticated attack on the identity of leading French news outlets, including 20 Minutes, Le Monde, Le Parisien, and Le Figaro. The perpetrators replicated these outlets’ identities to produce and disseminate at least 58 fake articles, causing confusion and aiding in the dissemination of misleading narratives about the war in Ukraine. In a further twist, from May 2023, the disinformation campaign began to usurp the identity of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, a troubling escalation in their tactics.
The campaign was identified as the Reliable Recent News (RRN) operation due to the central role of a media entity with that name. The RRN’s strategy involves creating controversial content on French news websites, creating inauthentic social media accounts, primarily on Facebook and Twitter, to promote their narratives, and using “typosquatting” to create clone websites of genuine national media and European governmental sites.
Typosquatting, as employed in this campaign, involves registering domains with names deliberately similar to well-known websites to mislead unsuspecting internet users. This strategy was used to disseminate pro-Russian content related to the war in Ukraine, passing it off as articles published by legitimate media outlets.
According to VIGINUM, these operations are backed by Russian or Russophone individuals and various Russian companies. In a public announcement made on December 15, 2022, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, attributed the RRN campaign to two Russian firms, Structura National Technologies (Struktura) and Social Design Agency (Agentstvo Sotsialnogo Proektirovania).
As the digital disinformation landscape evolves, efforts to combat such campaigns become ever more crucial. VIGINUM continues to remain vigilant against these attempts at interference, protecting public digital discourse and the integrity of online platforms. VIGINUM’s latest exposure of the RRN campaign serves as a reminder of the need for stringent security measures, comprehensive checks, and a healthy skepticism about the source of online news.