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Republic of the Philippines
National Police Commission
PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE
ANTI-CYBERCRIME GROUP
Camp BGen Rafael T Crame, Quezon City
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ACG-CYBER SECURITY BULLETIN NR 185:  Beware of Internet Astroturfing Scam

Reference Number ACG-CSB 030920185

The following information was obtained from different cyber security sources for notification to all parties concerned pursuant to the mandate of the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP ACG) and classified as “Restricted” pursuant to the PNP Regulation 200-012 on Document Security and Impact Rating as high based on PNP Information Communication Technology (ICT) Security Manual s.2010-01 p. 22 and p.129.

SUMMARY

Online astroturfing refers to coordinated campaigns where supporting a specific agenda are distributed via the Internet. These messages employ deception to create the appearance of being generated by an independent entity or individual with hidden agenda. It is an attempt to create the impression of grassroots support for a policy or individual and considered inherently misleading and dishonest.

Internet users who seek to gain knowledge on a particular subject or gauge support for various opinions frequently search the web for references. It is common for web references to contain both factual information and a comments section where web page viewers can post their individual opinions. The volume of information available through internet resources is growing rapidly and most computer-savvy people consider the internet a primary source of reliable information, facilitated by powerful search engines, internet users have access to a broad spectrum of opinions regarding popular issues, even those opinions with sparse support.

Additionally, some internet users have begun to doubt the veracity of information released by organizations and public authorities. As a result, many users have turned to alternative information sources such as social networks, blogs and other forms of interactive online communication which they believe are more authentic.

Peer-provided information has been extensively used in the e-commerce domain. However, communicating anonymously on the internet proves users with a sense of security much like talking to others in a completely dark room in which nobody can see each other. This cloak of anonymity provides an opportunity for cyber criminals to pretend they are someone else, thus making the internet an ideal platform for astroturfing.

Unfortunately, some of the information received from the internet is falsified to manipulate the reader’s opinions. In many cases this falsified information is crafted to appear as if it was posted by autonomous internet users when it was, in fact, released by an individual with hidden agenda and worst there is an intent to gain such as identity of its target and gather personal information that could be used in cybercrime related cases.

In the face of the viral situation of the 2019 coronavirus may mislead the netizens and surf the internet for their awareness not knowing that it may contain of unsolicited promotional emails, pop-ups and other fraudulent website used for phishing attacks. Thru this, it will be a breeding ground for cyber criminals and thieves to look for their possible victim/targets via social engineering.

Commonly, social engineering involves email or other communication that invokes urgency, fear, or similar emotions in the victim, leading the victim to promptly reveal sensitive information, click a malicious link, or open a malicious file.

In lieu, every individual must be cautious in visiting web pages with malicious code on it. This would disallow the attacker to compromise through system infection. It is best to install security software with warning signals for the detection of malicious software.

RECOMMENDATION

All PNP personnel as well as the public are advised to follow the tips in order to avoid being a victim of internet astroturfing scam:
• Do not click on email links.
• Do not open attachments from unknown senders.
• Always check the URL when making online financial transactions. Be sure that you are entering the legitimate secured sites.
• Patch early, patch often. Do not make it easy for the crooks to get in through the back door;
• Treat dodgy-looking email attachments and links with caution; and
• Check the publish date and time.
For additional information, please refer to the following websites:
• https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286729041_Online_astroturfing_A_theoretical_perspective
• https://rboa.com/digital-astroturfing-is-it-worth-the-risk/
• http://ejlt.org/article/view/501/635
• https://phys.org/news/2019-05-astroturfers.html

POINT OF CONTACT

Please contact PMAJ ANGELICA STARLIGHT L. RIVERA, Chief, Personnel Records Management Section thru e-mail address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact us on telephone number (632) 7230401 local 3562 for any inquiries related to this CYBER SECURITY BULLETIN.