New research focusing on the growth of “fake news” has uncovered a booming business in using disinformation to generate profits. Cybercriminals are actively selling fake-news-generation tools and services on the dark web for as little as $5.
Risk management firm Digital Shadows published a report this week revealing that the fake news business is not only real, but flourishing. The company notes growth in the number of toolkits and services aimed at inflicting financial and reputational damage on their targets.
One such offering is called the ‘Pump and Dump’ service, which is designed to slowly but steadily purchase cryptocurrency shares, while using fake news to drum up interest in the currency, then sell the shares at a higher price. One Bitcoin wallet tied to such a service was analyzed closely by Digital Shadows. Researchers found that whoever was behind the wallet had made $326,000 in under two months.
Another service helps create “spoofed” websites. These websites look identical to their real counterparts, but a single character is modified in its URL – essentially an evil twin.
“Like any good news story, content will be shared, liked, reposted and distributed across many different platforms and channels,” the researchers said. “The more widely a piece of disinformation can be spread, the better the chances of it capturing the public imagination and achieving its objective — whether that is to discredit an opponent, sow discord or to generate profit.”
Toolkits used to control the activities of social media bots are sold on a trial basis starting at $5. One service offers fake Amazon rankings, reviews and votes, as well as listing optimizations.
“The sheer availability of tools means that barriers to entry are lower than ever,” said Rick Holland, VP Strategy, Digital Shadows. “It means this now extends beyond geopolitical to financial interests that affect businesses and consumers. Of course, rumours, misinformation and fake news have always been part of human society. But what has changed in the digital world is the speed such techniques spread around the world, and the fact tools are freely available on the dark and surface web to enable those wanting to carry out these sorts of campaigns to do so with easy and by locating and using the services and tools they need online.”
Researchers advise organizations believed to be at risk to:
- combat domain spoofing by monitoring the registration of domains similar to theirs
- seek to detect malicious bots by monitoring social media for brand mentions
- keep tabs on forums that could be used to manipulate share prices
- monitor trending activity pertaining to their business or organization