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Russia responds to Syria military strike with cyber attacks

By Sheetal Sukhija, Jacksonville News
16 Apr 2018, 22:32 GMT+10

MOSCOW, Russia - In a bid to get back at the West for launching a military strike on its close ally Syria, over an alleged chemical weapons attack on Douma - Russia is now said to be responding with cyber attacks in Syria’s defense. 

According to reports, on Monday, Russia “reignited” its disinformation campaign against the U.K. and U.S. with pro-Russian sympathisers and bots spreading a Russian claim that there was no chemical attack on Douma.

Further, the bots spread news that the alleged chemical attack was a “false flag” operation by the White Helmets rescue volunteer group.

The claim by Russia comes at a time when the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is likely to face heavy political pressure over her decision to bomb Syria’s chemical weapons program.

Russian officials have claimed that the Douma attack was staged to distract the public from a supposed lack of clarity about who poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Salibsury in March.

According to NATO’s disinformation monitors in Europe, they have seen a concerted effort by Russia to deny the Douma attack took place.

This, despite confirmation from the World Health Organisation, rescue workers, independent journalists and medics about the situation on ground and the impact of the attack.

NATO’s East Stratcom Task Force reported, “Immediately after the reports of a suspected chemical attack in Syrian Douma appeared, Russia reignited its disinformation campaign on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.”

According to Hamilton 68, a website set up by researchers working with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a transatlantic project set up to counter Russian disinformation campaigns - Syria is the leading hashtag on social media accounts identified as part of Russia-linked influence networks.

The website noted that the top single web page being promoted was a link to a report on Russia’s claim that the Skripals were poisoned with a different toxin to the one identified by the independent chemical weapons watchdog last week.

NATO’s East Stratcom Task Force which focuses on countering pro-Kremlin propaganda published the Dininfo Review, which said that there is a “serious risk that Russia wins the information confrontation.”

Stratcom explained that the Kremlin was attempting to “flood the information space with misleading and deliberately false stories.” 

According to one analysis, Russian disinformation accounted for two out of every three articles about the Skripal case shared on social media.

Meanwhile, media reports noted that the U.K. government has confirmed a “20-fold” increase in disinformation being spread by Kremlin-linked social media “bot” accounts since the U.K., U.S. and France attacked Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure on Saturday.

Further, on Monday, British intelligence agencies warned that the Putin regime could hit back with “dirty tricks” such as distributing compromising material on members of the May cabinet.

According to officials, they have even prepared for a direct cyber-attack on U.K. national infrastructure, pointing out that they had “pre-positioned” inside Russian computer networks and would launch a retaliatory attack if the U.K. was targeted.

Russia has strongly opposed the U.K., U.S. and France’s action against Syria.

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