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Illustration by iStock; Security Management

Russian Bot Farm Allegedly Used AI to Impersonate Americans Online

Generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) is supercharging influence campaigns, including a widespread disinformation operation allegedly run out of Russia.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said that a bot farm organized by a deputy editor at Russian state-owned media firm RT, formerly Russia Today, created nearly 1,000 social media accounts for fake Americans on X (formerly Twitter) to spread pro-Russia stories starting in 2023, according to court documents made public on Monday.

The bot farm allegedly used Gen AI to quickly generate realistic text and images to populate hundreds of fictitious social media profiles, attempting to make them feel more realistic and believable. RT affiliates then used those accounts to disseminate disinformation to and about multiple countries, including Germany, Israel, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Ukraine, and the United States, the DOJ said.

In a joint cybersecurity advisory about the technology the social media bot farm used, the DOJ and its partners encouraged social media companies to identify fake accounts and “reduce Russian malign foreign influence activity.” Partners on the advisory included the FBI, the U.S. Cyber National Mission Force, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, The Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service, The Netherlands Military Intelligence and Security Service, and The Netherlands Police. 

The 968 X accounts in question included fake users claiming to live in the United States. The accounts posted videos of Russian President Vladimir Putin justifying Russian military action in Ukraine, as well posts claiming that parts of Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine were “gifts” from Russian forces after World War II, NPR reported.

When NPR asked RT for comment on the allegations, the outlet’s press office replied: "Farming is a beloved pastime for millions of Russians."

X suspended the accounts for terms of service violations, and the DOJ seized two domain names used by the bot farm to create email addresses used to set up the social media accounts. The bot farm’s use of U.S.-based domain names allegedly violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and accompanying payments for that infrastructure violated federal money laundering laws, the DOJ explained.

“Today’s actions represent a first in disrupting a Russian-sponsored Generative AI-enhanced social media bot farm,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a DOJ press release. “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. The FBI is committed to working with our partners and deploying joint, sequenced operations to strategically disrupt our most dangerous adversaries and their use of cutting-edge technology for nefarious purposes.”

Creating fake profiles used to be one of the most time-consuming parts of disinformation campaigns and bot farms, but Gen AI is changing the pace of work, the BBC reported.

Read about how Gen AI affects crime, election security, and more in Security Management’s recent coverage here.