JERUSALEM (Agencies) : The newly discovered group of hackers allegedly exploited social media vulnerabilities, tweaked bots and created fake news. The head of the group was an Israeli man alleged to be a former special forces operative.
A team of contractors were recently discovered to be behind more than 30 election interference operations that were carried out for more than 20 countries, it was recently revealed by a group of journalists.
Some of the interference operations were carried out in Britain, the US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Mexico, among other nations.
The hacker unit was codenamed “Team Jorge” and led by Tal Hanan whose alias was determined to be “Jorge.” The bombshell findings detailed Israeli contractors effectively provided clients with the ability to influence the media and public by creating and operating an army of bots numbering in the tens of thousands.
Following a series of meetings in which three undercover journalists spoke with Hanan over a six-month period in 2022, officials determined the bot army tapped by the hacker group can possess:
photos on their profiles (the journalists did not get an answer to where the photos were coming from, but were later able to find evidence that some of the photos belong to real people’s accounts)
social media profiles
The three journalists were able to meet with Hanan after identifying themselves as representatives of a businessman who wanted to influence elections in an unnamed African country.
Hanan told reporters the team created special software known as Aims that can create up to 30,000 bots to carry out its disinformation operations. It is possible to create a fake avatar of a person of any nationality and then match the profile images to the names. The system is also available for purchase.
“It’s our own developed Semi-Auto Avatar creation and network deployment system,” he reportedly said, adding it could be used in any language.
Reporters were also informed that the hacker team included experts in finance, social media, political campaigns and psychological warfare. It was further noted the unidentified specialists were “graduates of government agencies” who could hack into Gmail and Telegram accounts. When asked about the technical feasibility of doing so, journalists were told vulnerabilities in the global signaling telecommunications system, known as SS7, were being exploited.
“One of the biggest things is to put sticks between the right people, you understand? And I can write him what I think about his wife, or what I think about his last speech, or I can tell him that I promised him to be my next chief of staff, okay?” said Hanan.
The cost of his team’s services were estimated to be between €6 million and €15 million in cash or cryptocurrency for each instance of tampering. However, journalists claim to have found emails from the botnet team showing that in 2015, Hanan offered British consultancy Cambridge Analytica $160,000 for an eight-week campaign in a Latin American country.
In addition to Aims, Hanan described his “blogger machine,” an automated system for creating websites that Aims-controlled profiles used to create fake news.
“After you’ve created credibility, what do you do? Then you can manipulate,” he said.
After being contacted officially, Hanan didn’t answer questions, citing that he needed “approval” from an unspecified authority, adding: “To be clear, I deny any wrongdoing.”