Security researchers have uncovered a new Chinese influence operation targeting Western rare earth producers, which could set the tone for future campaigns in other sectors.
The Dragonbridge campaign has been operating since 2019, using a network of thousands of inauthentic accounts on multiple social media platforms, websites and forums to promote Chinese interests abroad.
However, Mandiant claimed the latest developments warrant closer scrutiny. It used more nuanced tactics than those normally seen in Chinese influence operations in order to discredit the targeted companies and foment local dissent.
For example, it included the use of fake social media and forum accounts posing as Texas residents to feign environmental and health concerns over a local rare earth plant. This included “posts to a public social media group predisposed to be receptive to that content,” Mandiant said.
The campaign also used inauthentic accounts to amplify real criticism of President Biden’s attempts to accelerate local rare earth production via a Defense Production Act.
The three targeted companies – Australian firm Lynas Rare Earths, Canadian business Appia Rare Earths & Uranium and USA Rare Earth – are all seen as a threat to China’s supply chain dominance in the market, which it has used for geopolitical ends in the past.
As such, similar information operations could be used in the future when Beijing sees industries of strategic importance it has an advantage in come under threat from foreign competition, Mandiant argued.
“While the activity we detail here does not appear to have been particularly effective and received only limited engagement by seemingly real individuals, the campaign’s microtargeting of specific audiences suggest the possibility of using similar means to manipulate public discourse surrounding other US political issues to the PRC’s advantage,” it said.
Rare earths are used in a variety of important consumer and defense products, including missile guidance systems and aircraft engines. Read more: https://bit.ly/3bB79VZ
You can also read this: Chinese Hackers Distributing SMS Bomber Tool with Malware Hidden Inside