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What I’m reading: September 2017 – Disinformation, Cyber Warfare, and Data Science


I’ve been on a huge cyber and information warfare kick lately. These are two of the five instruments of power and the most innovative in the last few years. They are being used to manipulate the global power structure in ways unheard of 10 years ago. So I have been reading everything I can on credible websites.

This may be my last monthly wrap-up, as I am reading so much I might go weekly from here on.

RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War – New York Times, 9/13/2017

This was my favorite article of the month. The New York Times details Russian-sponsored media channels and their growing influence in international news. Russian media has inserted itself into the international media landscape and fostered perspectives that have opposed 70 years of international norms. These views by those ignorant of their source and funding have disrupted international leadership and allowed Russia to operate without risk in the international sphere.

Influence Campaigns and the Future of International Competition – The Strategy Bridge, 9/12/2017

Another article on Russian media and their influence campaigns. This article however, looks at the strategic planning of the information operation campaign. It details the Russian initial philosophy and how it was implemented through Europe and the Ukraine. The article then discusses how Americans get their news and how Russian media has infiltrated these streams.

Cyber Assaults on Democracy’s ‘Brain-Space’ are Here to Stay – The Cypher Brief, 9/20/2017

A more scientific look at information operations via online media. This article defines the attacks as Cyber-enabled information warfare (CEIW), a very military acronym but a good way to categorize the operations. It also discusses the types of psychological biases CEIW preys on. The articles outlines the problem well, but stops at any solutions, saying “on the whole, there are no good solutions today for large-scale countering of CEIW operations in free and democratic societies. Development of new tactics and responses is therefore needed”. Yikes.

The Alt-Right and Antifa Are Waging a New Kind of Internet Warfare – Vice News, 8/30/2017

While previous articles discussed the Russians as the primary threat to American media and democracy, this article by Jacob Siegel details the online war between far right and far left groups in America. Both sides are using tech to identify, slander, humiliate, and attack each other in the real world. These highly polarized groups are conducting a low-intensity tribal war, or a “bottom-up” cyberwar. How well they attract mainstream support has yet to be seen, but for now their tactics will be a thorn in the side of American unity.

The Info Wars to Come –, 9/8/2017

While this article states a lot of what I already posted about, especially in regards to the New York Times article, it is interesting in that it attempts to pose a solution. Writer Fred Kaplan posits the horrible, horrendous idea of prohibiting anonymous accounts on social media. This is a bad idea. I have personally had a few anonymous twitter accounts. They were mostly used for comedy, but no one knew they were me. I’ve since closed them, but I never told those I interacted with who I was. It was fun that way. Registering for social media is not the right answer.

Protecting Democracy from Online Disinformation Requires Better Algorithms, Not Censorship – Council on Foreign Relations, 8/21/2017

Eileen Donahue writes about German attempts to quell divisive speech on social media. She writes that the German government is attempting to fine social media companies for incendiary speech by its users. I agree 100% when she says this is a bad idea. But her alternative lacks details. She says there needs to be better algorithms controlling what users see. But she never discusses any details. That is part of the problem. It is easy to blame algorithms as a boogie man, but unless you know how they work, it is near impossible to discuss changes to them.

Enough is Enough: How to stop Russia’s cyber-interference – Washington Post, 9/28/2017

Michael McFaul, Director of International Studies at Stanford University, proposes steps to stop, diminish, or at least make more people aware of Russian propaganda in US media channels. McFaul suggests greater cyber security, better public education, prohibiting foreign purchase of US political advertisements, and strict punishment for media companies allowing foreign influence to enter US media channels. While I think the first two are achievable, and are great goals, the latter two will be much more difficult as foreign actors (nation states or others) could easily use liaisons or third party companies or individuals to facilitate ad buys. Punishing everyone in the chain will be difficult to not only find, but to do.

What We Learned, and What We’re Doing, after Our Workshop on News, Polarization, and Public Spheres in Kentucky –, 8/25/2017

Media consultant and all-round good dude Sam Ford has been a e-migo of mine for several years. Sam is from rural Kentucky and has studied media and communities for a long time. One of his latest efforts is to get groups out of their shell and get them talking in real life. Recently, he sat down with folks from Bowling Green University, folks outside the university, immigrants in the area, and folks in the surrounding rural areas to see if bridges can be built. By talking and facing each and finding commonalities, Sam and his team feel we can slowing fix what has been pulling America apart.

The ultimate guide to bust fake tweeters: A video toolkit in 10 steps –, 10/4/2017

Twitter is full of junk information and spam accounts. Fortunately, there are many researchers hunting down these accounts and spreading the word that they are bogus. This article, by Henk Van Ess, gives ways to research whether or not a Twitter account is real or not. Habits such as whether or not it has interacted with others, if it has posted an overabundance of spam links, and who it follows are all giveaways on the authenticity of a twitter bot.

Cybersecurity: An Asymmetrical Game of War –, 8/28/2017

Not only are bad actors using computers to manipulate the media environment, they are still using it to attack our systems. This article gives a good primer into war-type thinking of cyber attacks. Author Hal Lonas provides three concepts not unique to warfighting that should be used by cybersecurity professionals: “think like criminals, leverage AI’s ability to find malicious threats, and stop worrying that machine learning will take our jobs”. By using AI and other cutting edge technologies, security analysts can minimize the workload of routine tasks and think outside the box, more inside the mind of a criminal. There are no rules in cybersecurity, and analysts need all the tools they can get.

Why You Need to Study Nation-State Attacks –, 8/23/2017

According to Markus Jakobson, nation-state sponsored cyber attacks are more advanced than criminals and other hackers. He labels this a trickle-down effect and tells cyber analysts to study nation-state attacks to get ahead to criminals and other hackers. Jakobson ends the article with several security tips, to include wrapping the file in a security blanket that would open with a password – another level of security.

Improving security through data analysis and visualizations –, 8/24/2017

A deep interview on data science and how data science can improve security. Data Scientist Charles Givre talks about the importance of data science and how organizations would be negligent not to incorporate data into their security. But however, once they make that decision, data has to be worked with smartly and with the full support of the organization. He also discusses the importance being able to visualize data for organizations, as some many not be used to reading data from databases and their sources. But a picture is worth 1,000 words and the pictures will tell the story faster than the words could.

Security Analytics: Making the Leap from Data Lake to Meaningful Insight –, 8/29/2017

Another article on integrating data findings into a security plan. This article, however, speaks to data scientists and helps them better present their analysis. As data science is a relatively new field, practitioners need to understand how to get their message out and not waste time or energy.

21st Century Intelligence – The Need for a One-Team-One-Fight Approach – Center for Complex Operations, 9/15/2017

An experienced professional’s view on integrated intelligence sharing throughout the War on Terror. Former Asst Secretary of the Treasury Leslie Ireland proposes how intelligence agencies should work together in the fields of cybersecurity and threat finance. Those are multi-discipline, borderless threats that need decentralized analysts who can reach into different agencies for information. The author writes how a culture of cooperation should be fostered and other attitudes should be encouraged such as data sharing. However difficult, these are big but necessary tasks for the intelligence community.