Army of fake Russian Twitter accounts 'meddled in Brexit vote'
Fake Twitter accounts based in Russia posted thousands of messages encouraging people to vote for Brexit ahead of the EU referendum last year, it has been claimed.
More than 150,000 accounts - many of them with apparently little or no human control - focused heavily in Brexit in the days leading up to the vote, according to the Times.
The paper said they posted some 45,000 messages just in the last 48 hours of the referendum campaign - most of them supporting a vote to leave the EU.
It comes as a UK security chief was set to detail how Russian hackers have targeted the UK energy network, telecoms and the media over the past year.
On Monday Theresa May warned Russian president Vladimir Putin: “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”
The details in the Times come from research for an upcoming paper by data scientists at Swansea University and the University of California, Berkeley.
Their report says a “massive number of Russian-related tweets was created a few days before the voting day, reached its peak during the voting and the result and then dropped immediately afterwards”.
Meanwhile, the Guardian detailed a separate investigation by the University of Edinburgh which identified more than 400 fake Twitter accounts that had tweeted about Brexit.
They were thought to be run from the Russian Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg.
Ciaran Martin - the head of the National Cyber Security Centre - is set to tell the Times Tech Summit in London today: "I can't get into precise details of intelligence matter, but I can confirm that Russian interference, seen by the National Cyber Security Centre over the past year, has included attacks on the UK media, telecommunications and energy sectors."
According to the Daily Telegraph, he will add: "Russia is seeking to undermine the international system. That much is clear.”
'YOU WILL NOT SUCCEED'
At the annual Lord Mayor's Banquet on Monday, the Prime Minister launched her strongest attack yet on President Putin as she detailed Russian efforts to interfere with the West.
"It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions,” she said.
"So I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.
"Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.
"The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise."