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Fake News-as-a-Service: Elections Can Be ‘Bought’ For $400K

A 12-month campaign to manipulate an election can cost as little as $400,000 (£315,000) on the cyber-underground, according to a detailed new report on fake news from Trend Micro.

The cybersecurity giant’s 77-page investigation into the fast-growing business details some of the marketplaces selling tools and services to influence public opinion, as well as the key steps required for an effective campaign: from reconnaissance and weaponization to delivery and exploitation.

Fake news services on offer can range from the creation of fake social media profiles and groups, to development of the fake content, dissemination via likes and retweets and even the development of legitimate-looking news sites.

For an extra charge, multiple news sites can be purchased which cross-reference each other to add more authenticity to the campaign, the report claimed.

Shockingly, some sites promise to influence the outcome of elections, trade agreements, referendums and the like for as little as $400,000.

Elsewhere, it claimed that a campaign designed to instigate street protests could be bought for $200,000, discrediting a journalist for $55,000 and creating a fake celebrity with 300,000 followers for $2,600.

In China, fake advertorials can be bought for just 100 yuan (£11), while in Russia, 35,000 rubles (£479) will buy your video two minutes on the YouTube homepage.

Trend Micro claimed that nation states could avail themselves of the services touted on such underground forums to maintain anonymity.

Trend Micro’s European cybersecurity architect, Simon Edwards, told Infosecurity Magazine that fake news is being spread at an unprecedented rate.

“Fake News-as-a-Service allows for messages to be quickly promoted and disseminated across social media networks for as little as $1,000 for a million YouTube views. A whole 12-month campaign to manipulate an election for only $400,000. Protecting yourself from this barrage is not easy, but spend time reading and thinking about the article or video before accepting it to be the truth,” he advised.

“Read beyond the headline, cross reference the story with other news sites and research who posted it. But the bottom line is that people no longer rely traditional newspapers and their move to social media is being manipulated, so try to take more than 30 seconds to ingest and believe a news article.”

Although fake news has been around in various forms for decades, the report's focus is on use of social media to spread fallacious stories to influence public opinion. Russia has been blamed for carrying out co-ordinated campaigns ahead of the recent US and French presidential elections. 

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