Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella looks on during a video as he delivers the keynote address at Build, the company’s annual conference for software developers in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella looks on during a video as he delivers the keynote address at Build, the company’s annual conference for software developers in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Google takes on alleged Iranian influence campaign

A sign that it’s no longer just Russia conducting disguised political influence campaigns.

By Matt O’Brien / Associated Press

Google announced Thursday it had disabled dozens of YouTube channels and other accounts linked to a state-run Iranian broadcaster for a political influence campaign.

The security firm FireEye, which alerted tech companies to some of the suspicious activity, said in a report this week that the overall operation originates from Iran and promotes Iranian interests to audiences in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Google said its own forensic research shows the accounts were set up by people associated with the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB.

The broadcaster didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Thursday. FireEye said it’s a sign that it’s no longer just Russia conducting disguised political influence campaigns.

On Tuesday, Facebook — which also works with FireEye -— revealed that it had removed 652 suspicious pages, groups and accounts linked to Russia and Iran. Twitter made a similar announcement shortly thereafter.

Tech companies have become much more proactive about sleuthing out and dealing with political influence campaigns since last year, when Facebook, Google and Twitter acknowledged allowing Russian agents to spread propaganda on their networks during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Several are going further, offering specific help to protect U.S. political candidates from Russian hackers and other bad actors ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. In so doing, they’re confronting another question: Could that free help count as an illegal campaign contribution?

Microsoft, for instance, has gone so far as to request an advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission to make sure its new free package of online security protections for “election-sensitive” customers doesn’t count as an in-kind campaign contribution. Companies are typically prohibited from contributing to federal candidates and political committees under federal law.

Microsoft said this week it’s offering its AccountGuard service on a nonpartisan basis to federal, state and local candidates, party committees and certain nonprofit groups. The company told FEC it might also work with other tech firms such as Facebook and Twitter on coordinated election security efforts, though no agreements have been made.

Google last year also launched what it calls its Advanced Protection Program, which uses security keys to protect high-risk potential hacking targets such as politicians, as well as journalists and business leaders.

At least one prominent security expert believes it may be too late to protect November’s midterms from further interference. Alex Stamos, who stepped down as Facebook’s security chief last week, said in an online essay that U.S. officials haven’t taken the threats seriously enough.

He cited Microsoft’s revelation early this week that it discovered efforts by a hacking group tied to the Russian government to spoof websites belonging to the U.S. Senate and two conservative institutions. Such fake websites have previously been used by the group known as Fancy Bear to trick targeted victims into letting their computers be infiltrated.

Stamos said that “In some ways, the United States has broadcast to the world that it doesn’t take these issues seriously and that any perpetrators of information warfare against the West will get, at most, a slap on the wrist.”

He said “this failure has left the U.S. unprepared to protect the 2018 elections,” though there’s “still a chance to defend American democracy in 2020.”

Obtaining the FEC’s opinion could take Microsoft a few months, but the company said that won’t stop it from moving ahead with the service immediately. Microsoft said it believes there’s precedent for charging political and non-political customers different rates.

The midterm election is on Nov. 6, though many states have already held their primaries.

Company lawyers told the FEC that along with trying to help democracy, Microsoft has a “compelling business interest in maintaining its brand reputation” amid continued public focus on Russian efforts to influence this year’s election. They said Microsoft’s reputation would suffer if hackers breached Microsoft accounts belonging to election-sensitive customers.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

Lynnwood
New Jersey auto group purchases Lynnwood Lexus dealership land

Holman, which owns Lexus of Seattle in Lynnwood, bought property on which the dealership resides.

Two couples walk along Hewitt Avenue around lunchtime on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett businesses say it’s time the city had its own Chamber of Commerce

The state’s seventh-largest city hasn’t had a chamber since 2011. After 13 years, businesses are rallying for its return.

Students Mary Chapman, left, and Nano Portugal, right, work together with a fusion splicer and other equipment during a fiber optic technician training demonstration at Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Sno-Isle students on the path to becoming fiber professionals

The state will roll out $1.2 billion to close gaps in internet access. But not enough professionals are working to build the infrastructure.

Washingtonians lost $250M to scammers in 2023

Identity theft, imposter scams and phony online ads were the most common schemes, a new study says.

LETI founder and president Rosario Reyes, left, and LETI director of operations Thomas Laing III, right, pose for a photo at the former Paroba College in Everett, Washington on Saturday, June 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Woman brings Latino culture to business education in Snohomish County

Rosario Reyes spent the past 25 years helping other immigrants thrive. Now, she’s focused on sustaining her legacy.

Annie Crawley poses for a photo with her scuba gear at Brackett’s Landing near the Port of Edmonds on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Edmonds ocean activist to kids: Life is better under the sea

From clownfish to kelp, Annie Crawley has been teaching kids and adults about the ocean’s wonders for three decades.

Reed Macdonald, magniX CEO. Photo: magniX
Everett-based magniX appoints longtime aerospace exec as new CEO

Reed Macdonald will take the helm at a pivotal time for the company that builds electric motors for airplanes.

People walk along a newly constructed bridge at the Big Four Ice Caves hike along the Mountain Loop Highway in Snohomish County, Washington on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Check out the best tourist attractions in Snohomish County

Here’s a taste of what to do and see in Snohomish County, from shopping to sky diving.

People walk out of the Columbia Clearance Store at Seattle Premium Outlets on Thursday, April 25, 2024 in Quil Ceda Village, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Head to Tulalip for retail recreation at Seattle Premium Outlets

The outlet mall has over 130 shops. You might even bring home a furry friend.

Brandon Baker, deputy director for the Port of Edmonds, shows off the port's new logo. Credit: Port of Edmonds
A new logo sets sail for the Port of Edmonds

Port officials say after 30 years it was time for a new look

Penny Clark, owner of Travel Time of Everett Inc., at her home office on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
In a changing industry, travel agents ‘so busy’ navigating modern travel

While online travel tools are everywhere, travel advisers still prove useful — and popular, says Penny Clark, of Travel Time in Arlington.

Travis Furlanic shows the fluorescent properties of sulfur tuft mushrooms during a Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tour at Tilth Farmers Market on Saturday, April 27, 2024 in Langley, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
On Whidbey Island, local fungi forager offers educational mushroom tours

Every spring and fall, Travis Furlanic guides groups through county parks. His priority, he said, is education.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.