Mandiant uncovers Chinese influence campaigns against US, Taiwan

The Chinese government has launched a major disinformation campaign in the wake of US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, using dozens of bogus media sites to hype the danger associated with the trip and to smear Beijing’s critics.

 

Researchers for cyber security firm Mandiant have identified around 72 websites purporting to be reputable media outlets, but which are in fact controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

Beijing has been using the sites, along with a network of fake social media accounts, to conduct what is in effect a campaign of information warfare in the wake of Ms Pelosi’s visit.

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In a concerted cyber campaign Mandiant has dubbed “HaiEnergy’’, Beijing has also attempted to smear critics of its reported genocide against China’s Uyghur population and even spread fake news about the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs Wade.

Mandiant Vice President of Intelligence Analysis John Hultquist, said tensions over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit had led to an increase in malicious cyber activity.

“Two Chinese information operations we track have shifted their narratives in recent days to a focus on U.S. House Speaker Pelosi’s expected visit and the supposed dangers of the situation,’’ Mr Hultquist said. “We anticipate that Chinese actors are also carrying out significant cyber espionage against targets in Taiwan and the U.S. to provide intelligence on the crisis.’’

Mandiant’s researchers believe the “news’’ sites are linked to Shanghai Haixun Technology Co., Ltd, a Chinese public relations firm, which Mandiant refers to as “Haixun” in its report.

A German anthropologist, Adrian Zenz, known for his research on Xinjiang and China’s reported genocide against the Uyghur population, has also been the subject of China’s ire.

Mandiant have identified websites and social media posts peddling faked documents purporting to show the anthropologist had received financial support from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.

Another fake news site ran an article supposedly from an Americna woman living outside the US who claimed that protesters against the US Supreme Court’s Woe vs Wade decision had been met with violence.

“Chinese actors have responded with cyber attacks to political crises like the Belgrade embassy bombing and the Hainan island incident in the past, but compared to their peers, they have not heavily leveraged this capability,’’ Mr Hultquist said. “On rare occasion, Chinese state actors have been linked to DDoS capability, destructive attack, and possible probing of critical infrastructure. Nonetheless, we believe China is capable of significant cyber attacks inside Taiwan and abroad.”

Additional Highlights of Findings:

  • Unlike previous cyber campaigns, such as DRAGONBRIDGE, HaiEnergy primarily leverages a network of inauthentic websites to disseminate content, alongside a small set of seemingly inauthentic accounts that promote material and, in some cases, appear to author content on certain sites
  • The campaign leveraged fabricated content designed to discredit opponents who have been critical of the Chinese Government:
    • A German anthropologist Adrian Zenz —known for his research on Xinjiang—and China’s reported genocide against the Uyghur population
    • A Chinese businessman Guo Wengui (Miles Kwok)
    • An article was published on several sites, including one purporting to be a Taiwanese news outlet, claimed that former U.S. government official, Mike Pompeo, visited Taiwan in March 2022 out of motivation for money and his alleged desire to run for U.S. president in 2024.
      • Additionally, it portrayed the U.S. as an unreliable ally, arguing that Taiwan should not expect the U.S. to send troops to defend it from a potential invasion by China.
  • On June 30, six days after the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Mandiant observed an English-language article purportedly by an author claiming to be an American woman living outside the U.S., which claimed that protesters against the decision had been met with violence by U.S. law enforcement and U.S. civilians that supported the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade
  • Despite a significantly large numbers of followers, the political posts made by inauthentic accounts Mandiant attributes to this campaign “failed to gain much traction outside of the campaign itself.”