Iranian hackers interrupt TV streaming services with deepfake Gaza news

Occurred: February 2024

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Hackers led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps interfered in streaming platforms in the UAE, UK and Canada with  news broadcasts generated by AI. 

In each case, a synthetic news anchor showed unverified photos that claimed to show Palestinians injured and killed by Israeli attacks on Gaza, accompanied by a ticker displaying the number of Palestinians killed and wounded in the war. A message on the affected channels said, 'We have no choice but to hack to deliver this message to you,' reported Dubai-based newspaper the Khaleej Times.

According to Microsoft, 'This marked the first Iranian influence operation Microsoft has detected where AI played a key component in its messaging and is one example of the fast and significant expansion in the scope of Iranian operations since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict.' The hackers were named by Microsoft as 'Cotton Sandstorm'.

The incident prompted commentators to express concerns about the use of fake AI-generated content to disrupt the many national political elections due to take place in 2024, and more broadly about how AI can be used to turbocharge the spread of disinformation.


Developer: Islamic Revolutionary Guards/Cotton Sandstorm
Country: Canada; UAE; UK
Sector: Media/entertainment/sports/arts; Politics
Purpose: Influence public opinion
Technology: Deepfake - video, audio
Issue: Mis/disinformation
Transparency: Governance; Marketing