The Redmond, Washington-based company is known for quickly detecting and analyzing hacking methods employed by governments against Microsoft users, but has tracked Facebook, Twitter and other companies to deal with the rapid proliferation of geopolitical lies.
Its most important social network is LinkedIn, a site for career development more than listening to what people have to say on political issues. But as propagandists hone their techniques, they have turned to smaller or newer platforms, games and influencers to spread their messages further. Last week, a group of US senators wrote to Chinese company TikTok to express concerns that Russian state media there are promoting misinformation.
Smith’s engagement came in an introduction to the company’s latest written report on cyber activity in Ukraine and elsewhere related to the war. As with previous reports, the document summarized limited cyberattacks against Ukrainian targets that would soon be attacked with explosives. The report also says that Russian operatives have stepped up their espionage efforts against the United States, Poland and other NATO countries, as well as think tanks, aid groups and service providers. energy and other critical infrastructure.
The new emphasis on misinformation follows a surge just before and during the invasion, as well as a commitment Microsoft and other tech companies made to the European Union to promote authoritative sources.
Disinformation operations have been documented by several groups and agencies, including via government-controlled media such as RT and Sputnik, which are widely read in Latin America and non-aligned countries, and more subtle initiatives, such as supposedly independent media in occupied Ukraine.
Microsoft said it has developed a new Russian Propaganda Index that measures user traffic to “Russian state-controlled and sponsored news outlets and amplifiers” as a proportion of traffic to all news sites.
When it first appeared, Microsoft said the index showed the proportion of propaganda seen by users in Ukraine had tripled in the first weeks of the war and had risen to 86% in the United States.
Smith wrote that Russian influence campaigns are part of the war effort and “combine tactics developed by the KGB over several decades with new digital and internet technologies to give foreign influence operations a broader geographic reach. , higher volume, more precise targeting, and greater speed and agility.
“Unfortunately, with sufficient planning and sophistication, these cyber influence operations are well positioned to take advantage of the longstanding openness of democratic societies and public polarization.”
In an interview, Ginny Badanes, leader of the company’s small counter-disinformation group, said Microsoft won’t be limited to countering Russia or wartime propaganda. But she said they were good starting points and that she hoped that by reporting the big picture of Microsoft and its subsidiaries, the company would inspire others to work outside the channels devoted to messaging, hacking or military activity.
“We hope the outcome of this report will inspire others to think about breaking down silos,” Badanes said. “We need to think about this from a national security perspective.”
She said her group, called Democracy Forward, has “a few handfuls” of core employees and help from various business units. She said staffers will study control and distribution, rather than content, and enlist help from outside groups that track media ownership.
Already, it promotes news articles from Ukrainian media outlets when readers seek news that has been the subject of Russian government-led news. He is considering affixing “state-sponsored” or similar labels where appropriate.
Microsoft said it will release its first transparency report on its efforts and their effectiveness later this year.