Iranian state-backed hackers interrupted TV streaming services in the United Arab Emirates in December to broadcast a deepfake report on the Israel-Hamas war, Microsoft said this week.
Hackers led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps interfered in streaming platforms in the UAE with a news broadcast generated by artificial intelligence. The pseudo news anchor showed unverified photos that claimed to show Palestinians who were injured and killed by Israeli attacks on Gaza.
A message on the affected channels said, “We have no choice but to hack to deliver this message to you,” according to the Dubai-based newspaper the Khaleej Times.
“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,” a Microsoft blog post said.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.
Beyond the UAE, the disruption also reached audiences in the United Kingdom and Canada, according to Microsoft.
These incidents underscore Tehran’s broader efforts to influence public opinion about the Israel-Hamas war, Microsoft said. Through a combination of cyberattacks and propaganda campaigns, the Iranian government has sought to weaken Israel and help Hamas since October 7, when Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel, the report said.
“Iran’s work in support of Hamas seems to be as much about the appearance of having influence on the global stage as it is about concrete impact,” Microsoft’s blog post said.
Microsoft warned that Tehran could deploy AI in an effort to influence the 2024 U.S. presidential election.
In 2020, Iran launched several cyber operations intended to incite violence against U.S. government officials and divide voters.
The incidents identified by Microsoft also highlight broader concerns from technology experts about how AI can be used to turbocharge the spread of disinformation.
For instance, deepfakes have impersonated various news anchors — including some from VOA — as a way to spread false stories and sow distrust in news, analysts say.