Singapore GE2020: Hackers pretend to be political parties in run-up to elections

Fake Facebook pages have been set up masquerading as Red Dot United and Peoples Voice, while the Workers' Party said some people have received fake messages purportedly from them. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - At least three political parties have fallen victim to hackers who are pretending to be them in the lead-up to the general election on July 10, in order to spread fake news, or possibly, to steal money and information.

Checks by The Straits Times has found that bad actors have set up fake Facebook pages masquerading as Red Dot United (RDU) and Peoples Voice (PV).

RDU chairman Michelle Lee told ST on Sunday (June 28) that it has lodged a police report against a Facebook page pretending to be the party and making posts that are misrepresenting it. The page has been removed.

"Any page that masquerades as Red Dot United would have as its intention the hijacking of the identity and messaging of our party. We are grateful for the quick response by Facebook to take the fake page down," she said.

Ms Lee added that the public should look out for the blue tick on its Facebook page, which would show that it is a verified page.

The party had published a post on Facebook warning about the fake page, which was called Red Dot United Party and featured its logo together with other fabricated posts that tried to "attribute harmful and divisive sentiments to RDU".

While the fake RDU page has been removed, a fake page pretending to be PV was still up as of Sunday evening.

Party chief Lim Tean said he and the party are aware of the fake page, which is called People's Voice Party.

He added that he has posted a warning about fake PV accounts on his own Facebook page, which is where the party makes its announcements, and said he is considering making a police report as well.

"These fake pages are dangerous because you do not know what is on the minds of people who create them. They might want to mislead the public to cause us harm and make us look like extremists or lunatics," said Mr Lim.

"They might totally misrepresent our party's position."

Besides fake Facebook pages, bad actors have also sent individual text messages pretending to be political parties.

On Saturday, the Workers' Party said on Facebook that some people have received fake messages from users who pretend to be from the party.

"The Workers' Party issues all official messages, statements and releases via our official social channels instead of individual text messages (that some of you have shared with us)," it said.

In an advisory on Sunday, the Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team (SingCert) warned that reports of malicious cyber activities increased during elections in other countries and this could happen when Singapore goes to the polls on July 10 too.

As political parties will be relying heavily on online platforms to reach voters given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the need for safe distancing, there will be more opportunities for bad actors to launch attacks online, added SingCert, which is a unit of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore.

This could come in the form election-themed phishing baits, said SingCert, referring to the tactic hackers would employ to get unsuspecting users to click on dubious links that would trick them into revealing personal information such as passwords, contact details or banking details.

"As a precautionary measure, members of the public and enterprises should be on heightened vigilance during this period," it added.

Mr Stas Protassov, the president of cyber security firm Acronis Technology, said creating fake sites that mimic politicians is a popular tactic by bad actors because it is extremely simple to do and quickly gains a lot of traction.

"Such pages are most commonly used to misinform people and push out fake news - to manipulate public opinion. And since fake news is usually controversial, it tends to spread much faster than the official one," he said.

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