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By Courtney Kube and Ken Dilanian
President Donald Trump personally signed a US military cyber operation that blocked Internet access for a Russian troll farm during the 2018 interim election NBC News from multiple sources, NBC News.
US Cyber Command's lawsuit against the Internet Research Agency (IRA) – first reported by the Washington Post on Tuesday – marks the Trump administration's most aggressive step yet, addressing Russian electoral disruption.
The IRA was accused by Special Prosecutor Robert Müller of interfering in the 2016 elections. The St. Petersburg-based company was funded by an oligarch affiliated with the Kremlin, Yevgeniy Prigozhin. It involved Russians posing as Americans in social media and trying to sow division in US politics by spurring extreme messages at the very ends of the political spectrum, according to federal prosecutors.
US Cyber Command, which cooperated with information gathered by the National Security Agency, blocked Internet access at the facility during the pre-stop hours of 2018 and for a few days thereafter, the sources said.
IRA employees complained to their IT department "I would not be surprised if the IRA is currently extremely frustrated," said John Hultquist, head of cyber security intelligence agency FireEye, to NBC News.
US Secret services are expected to closely monitor the activities of the IRA, but it is far more difficult for the government and private social media companies to address the broader phenomenon of manipulating social media systems.
Bots and trolls avoid discovery by creating Hultquist
The military operation against the IRA was part of a larger effort by Cyber Command, led by General Paul Nakasone, to crack down on intervention attempts in US politics before parliamentary elections said the sources.
Trump agreed to the broader effort, but also signed the special operation to strike the Internet Research Agency, a US official with direct knowledge of NBC News. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"We are not discussing the design and implementation of classified cyberspaces, and the US Cyber Command will continue to work as part of all government efforts to democratically defend our elections institutions from alien malignant influences," said Joseph Holstead, a spokesman of Cyber Command.
Prigozhin told the Post in a statement that he had no connection to the IRA. A company he controls, Concord Management, fights the Mueller case in federal court, but Prigozhin, who is believed to be in Russia, has not appeared.
Trump has spoken favorably about Russian President Vladimir Putin and cast doubt on US intelligence ratings The election of Russia in 2016 is described, but his government has arrested Russia over a massive cyberattack and the poisoning of a former Russian spy London imposed new sanctions.
US. Intelligence agencies said they did not see the same degree of interference from Russia in 2018 as they did in 2016, when a hacking and licking Russian intelligence campaign tried to help Trump and hurt his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Private cybersecurity According to NBC News analysts, they see signs that Russia is stepping up efforts that could lead to interference in 2020.
There is no US government strategy known to combat foreign interference, and last year Trump discarded the White House's position as cybersecurity adviser.