Cybersecurity experts have recently discovered a new website operated from Russia that was created for the express purpose of interfering with and disrupting the 2018 midterm elections in the United States.
They say that the website is part of a new Russian influence operation which has been operating in the same way as a previous internet company that according to the FBI was involved in efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections.
The website, called USA Really (usareally.com), was discovered by FireEye, a Milpitas, California cybersecurity company. They say USA Really first showed up on the internet on May 17.
According to FireEye, USA Really is a Russian-operated web site that carries content “designed to foment racial division, harden feelings over immigration, gun control and police brutality, and undermine social cohesion.”
An initial posting on USA Really was a call to arms to Americans to rally in front of the White House June 14 to celebrate President Donald Trump’s birthday, which is also Flag Day, to show support for the American flag and for the president’s agenda to put “America First.”
FireEye was able to determine that the web site’s operators also had previously worked out of the same office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency had its headquarters. This proves a definite Russia connection and is strong evidence that USA Really has a nefarious purpose.
In February of this year 13 Russians, the Internet Research Agency, and two other Russian entities were indicted for criminal behavior by special counsel Robert Mueller.
According to charging documents the Internet Research Agency was a “troll factory” that had spread widespread discord in the United States. The U.S. intelligence community also believes that they were able to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
The indictment said that the indicted Russians “posted divisive and politically charged content on U.S. social media, including false stories, and posed as U.S. activists as part of a broad campaign to interfere with the elections and political processes.”
Lee Foster, manager of information operations analysis for FireEye, said that all evidence points to USA Really as being a creation of the Internet Research Agency. He said there is pretty strong evidence that despite the indictments against them the Russians have not changed their ways, and have every intention of continuing to interfere in U.S. elections.
The new web site’s banner declares in English: “America will wake up on June 14th!” It carries a drawing of the White House and a fluttering U.S. flag as a backdrop. Foster said the site has more than 100 articles and they are posting an average of nine articles a day.
The new web site may be part of a pending broader campaign, Foster said. “There are a bunch of other domains as well that play on USA Really that we are monitoring that haven’t launched,” he said.
“They may also be contemplating what risks are involved if we were able to positively ID Russia trying to influence the 2018 midterms. To what extent does that undermine denials about 2016 activity? I’m sure that’s something that’s playing around in their minds as well,” Foster said.
A YouTube video posted on April 17 by the Russian Federal News Agency said USA Really “will focus on promoting information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications controlled by the U.S. political elite.”
This latest information from private cybersecurity experts makes clear Russians plan to continue to illegally influence the outcome of elections in this country. Now we must call upon governments at every level to be aware of what Russians are doing and to take appropriate steps to deal with this growing threat to our democracy.