Who they are, how they act and what they want. An investigation by an international consortium of journalists has just revealed the structure of a group of Israeli “contractors” accused of organizing computer attacks and disinformation campaigns
They operated under a code name and offered a kind of private service to covertly interfere in elections in more than 30 countries without leaving a trace. To do this, they used cyber attacks, sabotage and automated disinformation on social media. They were exposed this Wednesday by secret images and documents released by the British newspaper The Guardian.
According to the publication, which cites an investigation by an international consortium of journalists, behind this group is Tal Hanan, a former Israeli special forces agent aged around 50 who now works privately under the name “Jorge”. He is believed to have participated in various elections in various countries for more than two decades.
Contacted by the Guardian, Tal Hanan did not answer detailed questions about the activities and methods of the Jorge Group, but said: “I deny any wrongdoing.”
The investigation reveals in detail how disinformation is used as a weapon by Team Jorge, which also has large companies for “clients”. Incidentally, Tal Hanan himself told insider reporters that his services – described by some as “black businesses” – were available to intelligence agencies, political campaigns and private companies seeking to covertly manipulate public opinion. The leader also revealed that the group has been active in Africa, South and Central America, the United States and Europe.
One of Team Jorge’s main services is a sophisticated software package – the Advanced Impact Media Solutions, or simply “Goals”. Deep down, it controls a huge army of thousands of fake profiles on social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Telegram, Gmail, Instagram and YouTube. Some “avatars” (or bots) even have Amazon accounts with credit cards, bitcoin wallets, and Airbnb accounts.
The consortium of journalists that investigated the Jorge group includes reporters from 30 media outlets, including Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País. The project, part of a wider investigation into the disinformation industry, was coordinated by Forbidden Stories, a French non-profit organization whose mission is to monitor the work of murdered, threatened or imprisoned reporters.
In more than six hours of secretly recorded meetings, Hanan and his team talked about how they were able to gather intelligence on adversaries, using hacking techniques to access Gmail and Telegram accounts. They even boast planting material on legitimate media, which is then boosted by Aims bot management software.
Much of the group’s strategy appears to revolve around disrupting or undermining rival campaigns: the group even claimed to have sent an Amazon-delivered sex toy to a politician’s home, aimed at giving his wife the false impression that he was about to he’s having a relationship. .
The methods and techniques described by the Jorge team pose new challenges for major technology platforms, which have struggled for years to prevent these types of companies from spreading false information or breaching the security of their platforms.