China-linked bots attacking rare earths producer ‘every day’

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Fake social media accounts linked to the Chinese Communist Party are posting daily attacks on Lynas Rare Earths Ltd., according to the Australian company.

Cyber-protection experts say the campaign is targeting US and Australian collaboration on critical mineral supply chains. First made public in June, the attacks are focusing on Lynas’ environmental record in Malaysia in an attempt to turn public opinion against a new plant it’s building in Texas with US government funding.

“We see bot posts on various social media every day, and we report them every day, and it’s quite frustrating,” Lynas Chief Executive Officer Amanda Lacaze said in an interview on Friday. “It’s very easy to see the bot posts and the messages are exactly the same.”

China-connected propagandists have long attempted to leverage social media to influence public opinion on issues ranging from the origin of the coronavirus to the US presidential election, according to cybersecurity firms including Mandiant and Graphika.

The Cyberspace Administration of China didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bot campaign against Lynas was first identified by Mandiant, which dubbed it “Dragonbridge” and said it was emanating from a “pro-People’s Republic of China (PRC) network.” Mandiant said the campaign was also targeting a Canadian company, Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp.

Albert Zhang, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, separately monitored the group and concluded it was a “Chinese Communist Party information operation”. Both Mandiant and Zhang said the attacks were likely to be an attempt to derail President Joe Biden’s efforts to build a US critical minerals industry.

China currently dominates the supply chain of minerals needed in green energy, military equipment and high-tech manufacturing. Rare earths — used in magnets vital for electric vehicles and wind turbines — are among the most important of these.

Still, Lacaze said the social media attacks have had no discernible impact on the company’s operations.

Lynas is the world’s biggest producer of rare earths outside China, with an operating processing plant in Malaysia and two additional facilities being constructed in the US and Australia. On Friday, it reported record full-year net income after tax of A$541 million ($377 million), more than three times last year’s figure.

Lacaze said the result was helped by soaring demand for wind turbines and electric vehicles, adding that consumption would continue to grow.

“I think the chart goes from the bottom left to the top right with very little deviation from that trajectory,” she said, referring to the long-term demand outlook for rare earths.

(By James Fernyhough, with assistance from Jamie Tarabay and Andrew Janes)

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