Doppelgänger | Russia-Aligned Influence Operation Targets Germany 

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Doppelgänger | Russia-Aligned Influence Operation Targets Germany 

SentinelLabs and ClearSky Cyber Security have been tracking a propaganda and disinformation campaign since late November 2023, highly likely orchestrated by Doppelgänger, a suspected Russia-aligned influence operation network known for its persistent and aggressive tactics. Initially focusing on disseminating anti-Ukraine content following the onset of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, Doppelgänger has since broadened its scope, targeting audiences in the US, Israel, Germany, and France.
We observed a significant emphasis by Doppelgänger on targeting German audiences. The network’s activities are characterized by consistent efforts to disseminate propaganda and disinformation content, particularly by exploiting current topics of geopolitical and socio-economic significance among the population. The majority of the content seizes every opportunity to criticize the ruling government coalition and its support for Ukraine.
With Doppelgänger activities intensifying in times of frequent political shifts in Germany, we suspect that the network’s goal is to erode support for the coalition in light of upcoming European Parliament, municipal, and federal state elections, culminating in federal government elections scheduled for 2025.
While we were documenting the Doppelgänger campaign, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the prominent German media outlet Der Spiegel reported on overlapping activities, highlighting a growing concern about election interference.
In this post, we supplement existing reporting by providing additional technical indicators and insights into Doppelgänger’s tactics and disseminated content, with the ultimate goal of further heightening public awareness of this threat.
This report focuses on Doppelgänger activities targeting German audiences; a complementary report by Clearsky Cyber Security delves into the network’s targeting of Israel, the United States, and Ukraine. The activities we observed closely resemble and partially overlap with those previously reported by Recorded Future and Meta, indicating the persistent nature of Doppelgänger.
We observed Doppelgänger orchestrating the operation of a large coordinated network of X (formerly known as Twitter) accounts. These accounts propagate content from third-party websites whose content aligns with Doppelgänger propaganda goals, as well as from sites that Doppelgänger itself has created.
The majority of the X accounts we discovered as part of our investigation had not been deactivated at the time of writing. In an effort to maximize visibility and audience engagement, these accounts participate in coordinated activities, such as regularly posting and reposting content from highly popular profiles, as well as engaging with posts from other suspected Doppelgänger-managed accounts.
The posts from these accounts contain links that redirect visitors through two stages to the destination articles intended for consumption. These stages implement obfuscation and tracking techniques. Coupled with the carefully constructed infrastructure management practices we observed Doppelgänger implementing, this underscores the network’s determination to operate without interruptions while effectively tracking the performance of its influence operations.
The first-stage websites, which Doppelgänger distributes on X, use thumbnail images hosted at telegra[.]ph to obfuscate the website thumbnails and redirect to second-stage sites.
The second-stage websites contain text unrelated to the campaign and execute a JavaScript code obfuscated using Base64-encoding.
The JavaScript code samples we analyzed issue a request to ggspace[.]space (reported as part of previous Doppelgaenger campaigns) or sdgqaef[.]site. The request includes tracking information, which is likely a campaign identifier. These are in the format of [country]-[day]-[month]_[domain], where [domain] refers to the domain hosting the destination article (DE-02-01_deintelligenz for an article hosted at deintelligenz[.]com). The IOC table at the end of this post lists some of the campaign identifiers we observed.
In addition, the JavaScript code executed by second-stage websites dynamically loads another JavaScript code provided by ggspace[.]space or sdgqaef[.]site, which implements logic for generating web content that redirects to a destination article.
JavaScript code from sdgqaef[.]site

JavaScript code from sdgqaef[.]site
JavaScript code from sdgqaef[.]site

sdgqaef[.]site and ggspace[.]space host at the /admin URL path a login page, which has been assessed to be of the Keitaro Tracking System. Doppelgaenger possibly uses Keitaro to track the effectiveness of its campaigns.
Probably in an attempt to increase their visibility, some of the suspected Doppelgänger-managed X accounts we identified regularly post content, which does not necessarily contain first-stage websites, whereas others remain idle for relatively long time periods.

An active and idle suspected Doppelgänger account
An active and idle suspected Doppelgänger account

We observed accounts posting content linking to first-stage sites in multiple languages of the targeted audiences. Further, the Doppelgänger’s account network is probably attempting to increase the engagement metrics of posts that link to first-stage websites in a targeted manner through reposts and views. This becomes evident when these metrics are compared with the metrics of posts by the same accounts that do not link to first-stage websites.
We identified multiple clusters of suspected Doppelgänger-managed accounts which have joined the X platform within the same month. We observed a significant level of coordination in the activities of the accounts within the same cluster, suggesting centralized control. This includes reposting of the same content at almost the same time, typically that of highly popular profiles. In addition, engagement metrics of posts that link to first-stage sites by suspected Doppelgänger accounts within the same cluster often have very similar engagement metrics.

Coordinated activities
Coordinated activities

Our analysis of the engagement metrics for almost all the accounts we identified revealed a range of reposts between 700 and 2000, with a median value of 883, and a range of views between 613 and 14000, with a median value of 5000.
Doppelgänger has been very active in creating websites that host articles for consumption by targeted audiences through the previously described multi-stage approach. Among these sites, there are domains and websites impersonating third-party news outlets, which includes mimicking their design, structure, and domain names, such as welt[.]pm (inauthentic) vs. welt[.]de (authentic) and faz[.]ltd (inauthentic) vs. faz[.]net (authentic). We assess that the rest of the websites we observed have been created by Doppelgänger with original design and structure and no indications of impersonating established news platforms.
In most cases, we observed consistent and regular publishing of new content, with only occasional idle periods lasting a few days at most. Some of the content consists of a blend of materials sourced from other websites and translated into the languages of the targeted audiences.
A closer look at the custom-built websites indicates that Doppelgänger has been making a fast-paced effort to bring its websites online and start distributing content. For example, some sites include template text or exhibit errors in search functionalities. Furthermore, nearly all of these websites lack social media presence. They display icons of social media platforms that link to the domains of these platforms rather than specific profiles.
Many of the custom-built websites have been built and are managed using the WordPress content management system. We observed that some websites display status messages in Russian when users perform content searches and the activity fails with an error, indicating the use of Russian-language WordPress components.
The majority of the articles Doppelgänger distributes have a strong anti-government narrative, especially in regard to the government’s support of Ukraine. The article snippets we present below are machine-translated from German into English.
An article at arbeitspause[.]org discusses a recent series of strikes by workers in the German public transport demanding better wages and better working conditions. The challenges relating to the state of workers in this sector, such as rising living costs due to inflation and shortage of workers, are a pressing concern in Germany that captures the attention of the broader population.
On a similar note, another article at arbeitspause[.]org focuses on the recent strikes by German farmers, which involved the blockade of major roads and were motivated by rising living costs and the government’s plan to phase out agricultural subsidies. Overlapping at times with the strikes in the public transport sectors, the farmers’ strikes have been disrupting mobility and therefore garnered the attention of the population and mass media. Doppelgänger has attempted to capitalize on the momentum by criticizing the government’s plan regarding agricultural subsidies, drawing a connection to the government’s support for Ukraine.
An article at derglaube[.]com focuses on the German immigration policy, which, according to some polls, ranks among the top issues for voters in Germany. In addition, the media frequently covers topics relating to the government’s allocation of funds for immigration-related programs and services. Consistent with typical Doppelgänger practices, the influence operation network uses this opportunity to cast the government in a negative light and introduce its support for Ukraine into the narrative.
In an attempt to blend political-oriented propaganda or disinformation among other topics, some websites host articles covering broader subjects such as health, sports, and culture. We observed attempts to introduce propaganda even in such articles. For example, an article hosted at miastagebuch[.]com initially discusses headaches from a medical perspective only to later indicate the German government as one of the major causes of headaches.
We emphasize that Doppelgänger also targets Germany through articles published by third-party outlets, such as telepolis[.]de, freiewelt[.]net, overton-magazin[.]de, and deutschlandkurier[.]de.
The articles from these outlets that Doppelgänger disseminates focus on both domestic and international topics, some with a strong anti-Western narrative. For instance, an article from overton-magazin[.]de portrays the West as profiteering from the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, while depicting Ukraine as a plaything of Western global players (cit.).
Additionally, an article from osthessen-news[.]de highlights factors such as the Ukraine war and inflation as contributors to economic challenges in Germany, prompting medium-sized companies to consider restructuring due to escalating costs. Issues concerning small- and mid-sized companies are particularly relevant to the broader German audience, given their significant contribution to the country’s overall economy.
The Doppelgänger infrastructure can be structured into four parts subject to different infrastructure management and control practices, with each part designated to hosting the different entities involved in disseminating content for consumption by targeted audiences: the first-stage and second-stage redirection websites, the servers likely used for monitoring campaign performance (ggspace[.]space and sdgqaef[.]site), and the destination websites.
The first-stage and second-stage websites often shift between a variety of hosting providers, such as Hostinger, Global Internet Solutions, and Digital Ocean. The domains of these websites typically have short lifespans, lasting only several days at a time and recurring multiple times over a few years. We observe that Doppelgänger activates the domains for brief periods during its campaigns before deactivating them again.
The domains of the first-stage websites have a diverse range of top-level domains (TLDs), including generic TLDs such as .buzz, .art, .store, .site, and .online, as well as country code TLDs like and .br. The domains’ format suggests an automated generation approach involving the creation of subdomains and numerical suffixes, for example, pcrrjx.kredit-money-fun169[.]buzz and yzrhhk.kredit-money-fun202[.]buzz.
This strategy, combined with the frequent rotation between hosting providers and the cyclical nature of the domains, indicates an effort by Doppelgänger to evade detection and tracking of its first-stage infrastructure, which is exposed on social media platforms and therefore more likely to be subjected to scrutiny. Doppelgänger does not apply the same domain naming convention to second-stage websites, which are not directly exposed on social media platforms.
Playing a central role in Doppelgänger’s campaigns, ggspace[.]space and sdgqaef[.]site are responsible for both redirection and presumably monitoring campaign performance. They are hosted behind a Cloud-based reverse proxy infrastructure, likely implemented as a security measure to obfuscate their true hosting locations. In contrast to the first-stage and second-stage domains, the active periods of these domains typically span several months during Doppelgänger’s campaigns.
Many of the servers hosting the destination websites are managed using cPanel, and some implement geofencing, which restricts traffic to IP addresses from targeted countries. This practice is likely intended to minimize exposure of their infrastructure and content to scrutiny and monitoring by researchers or authorities outside those regions, reducing the likelihood of detection and investigation into Doppelgänger’s activities.
The domains of the majority of these websites were first registered in the first quarter of 2023 and some as early as mid-2022, remaining active as of the time of writing. A smaller subset of domains, such as derglaube[.]com, which we assess with high confidence as being managed by Doppelgänger at this time, have been active for nearly 10 years, with intermittent periods of inactivity lasting a few years at most.
Doppelgänger represents an active instrument of information warfare, characterized by strategic use of propaganda and disinformation to influence public opinion. The campaign targeting Germany we discussed in this post serves as a compelling example of the persistent and continually evolving nature of Russia-aligned influence operations, which exploit social media and current topics of geopolitical and socio-economic significance to shape perceptions.
We anticipate that Doppelgänger’s activities, targeting not only Germany but also other Western countries, will persist and evolve, particularly in light of the major elections scheduled across the EU and the USA in the coming years. We expect Doppelgänger to continue innovating its infrastructure and obfuscation tactics to make its activities more difficult to detect and disrupt.
We emphasize that countering influence operations requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach, involving enhancing public awareness and media literacy to identify and resist manipulation, alongside prompt and effective actions by social media platforms and infrastructure operators to limit the spread of propaganda and disinformation online.
SentinelLabs continues to monitor Doppelgänger activities and remains committed to timely reporting on its operations to improve public awareness of this threat and mitigate its impact.
Due to the extensive volume of observed indicators, we present here only a selection, including indicators from parallel campaigns targeting France alongside those targeting German audiences.
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