April 7, 2022, 8 a.m. ET

Hackers affiliated with the governments of Russia and Belarus have turned their attention to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February, attempting to use Facebook for cyber espionage and disinformation campaigns, the parent company said Thursday. of the social network, Meta.

Some of the hackers, who had focused on disinformation campaigns in Poland and the West, suddenly turned their attention to Ukraine, where they began trying to spread false messages about a Ukrainian military surrender, said Meta executives. Others blamed the Russian invasion on NATO and accused Ukrainian forces of killing civilians, while amateur hackers tried to spread disinformation, delete Facebook accounts that criticized the invasion and profit of the crisis through scams.

“Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have seen attacks on internet freedom and access to information escalate sharply,” said Nick Clegg, Meta’s president for global affairs. . The company has been quick in recent weeks to tone down conversations about the conflict on its platform, while fending off hackers.

Ghostwriter, a Belarusian-affiliated hacking group, continued its efforts to break into dozens of Facebook accounts of Ukrainian military officials and post fake messages about a surrender, Meta said in a broader quarterly report on cyberattacks and the misinformation on its platform. The company, which exposed similar Ghostwriter efforts last month, has blocked the group from posting videos purporting to show soldiers surrendering, said Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence manager for influence operations. .

Another group linked to the Belarusian KGB, which had focused on spreading disinformation in Poland, turned to Ukraine at the start of the conflict and also tried to spread false messages of surrender, Meta said in his report.

The Russian Internet Research Agency, known for creating misleading social media profiles and using them to spread misinformation, last year set up a website to spread messages about police violence in the West and tried to set up Facebook accounts in January and February to boost website content, Meta executives said. Meta blocked the profiles but noticed that during the invasion the group suddenly started creating articles blaming NATO for the war in Ukraine and accusing the Ukrainian military of targeting civilians.

Civilians have also jumped into the online conflict, Meta said. In the Luhansk region of Ukraine, websites and social media accounts that had promoted pro-Russian comments were taken over by hackers, who directed their audiences to Telegram channels that were broadcasting images of Russian victims. And in Russia, users created a Facebook group that claimed to share cooking tips, but was then used to mass-report profiles critical of the invasion in an effort to get Facebook to remove them.