A Pro-China online network is targeting Western companies mining for elements used to make smartphones and other hi-tech products, US cybersecurity firm Mandiant said in a report on Tuesday.
China controls 80 percent of the world’s supply of rare earth elements, vital components for anything from electric vehicles to fluorescent lighting, and Western powers have been trying for years to redress the balance.
Mandiant identified a network of thousands of fake social media accounts in 2019 that it has linked to several campaigns pushing pro-China messages and disinformation.
The US firm’s report on Tuesday said the network, which it has named “Dragonbridge”, had spent months targeting rare earth mining companies.
It said Dragonbridge had attacked on social media Australian company Lynas Rare Earths over its environmental record and urged protests at a planned construction site for a processing facility in Texas.
Some accounts posed as Texas residents feigning concern about environmental and health issues.
Later, Canadian firm Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp and USA Rare Earth were targeted on social media for their activities.
Mandiant suggested these three firms were targeted as they were all involved in challenging China’s dominance of the global market.
The pro-China campaign also promoted content from US politicians of both main parties criticising President Joe Biden’s administration for acting to boost domestic production of the minerals.
Mandiant said the campaign “does not appear to have been particularly effective and received only limited engagement”.
But the firm warned that the pro-China network could use similar methods “to manipulate public discourse surrounding other US political issues” to Beijing’s “advantage”. — Agence France-Presse