Monday, April 3, 2017

Hecklers, Honeypots, and Hackers - How Russia Sows Discord in the Western World

Russian empire (re)building is very clumsy compared to America's Empire building, possibly the difference between a land-based empire and an economic empire. But where Russia completely out plays the West is in the use of cyber Active Measures.

America has "interfered" in elections at least since the end of WWII and still does but appears to continue to use Cold War methodologies: NGOs training locals in organizing Civil Society and Civil Disobedience, funding opposition parties, official pronouncements of support, that sort of thing.  Other things may not be so obvious, see also Latin America.

Russia on the other hand has gone high tech, making full use of all the capabilities of the internet to spread fake news rapidly, intimidate or smear opponents, which they applied accurately and effectively in USA and are doing the same in Germany and France.  These two articles are reports of testimony given at the Senate Hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 election and are the clearest explanation of how it works that I have read to date. Clearly written and no spaghetti diagrams

Clint Watts' Testimony: Russia’s Info War on the U.S. Started in 2014

Hate Makes Us Weak: How Russia exploits American racism and xenophobia for its own gain.

Three other articles may be of interest and I have extracted and edited some of the high spots.

Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind

Long read but worth it, about the psychology of how and why we make decisions and how our decision making process can be manipulated.  The Trump Campaign allegedly applied these technologies very specifically in critical states.  

News outlets have claimed that although Obama’s and Clinton’s teams both used social media, data analytics, and finely grained targeting to promote their message, Trump’s team, according to Forbes, “delved into message tailoring, sentiment manipulation and machine learning.” If this sinister level of manipulation seems far-fetched, it nevertheless reflects the boasts of Cambridge Analytica, the company they employed to do this for them, a subsidiary of the British-based SCL Group.
The company, whose board has included Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has also been held responsible by the press for the outcome of the Brexit vote of June 2016. Its CEO, Alexander Nix, claims in a presentation entitled “The Power of Big Data and Psychographics” (which can be found on Youtube) that Cambridge Analytica has used OCEAN personality tests in combination with data mined from social media to produce “psychographic profiles”—models that predict personality traits—for every adult in America. It did so without the consent of Kosinski and Stillwell, who developed the technique. Nix claims that they possess between four and five thousand data points on every potential voter, after combining the personality test results with “attitudinal” data, such as credit card spending patterns, consumer preferences, Facebook likes, and civic and political engagement. Nix claims that they can use their data in combination with tracking cookies, data from cable companies, and other media tools to target very specific audiences with messages that are persuasive because they are informed by behavioral science.
Note: Other articles have said that Cambridge Analytica did not have as great an impact as they claim.  However their sources wanted to take credit for Trump's win.
UW professor: The information war is real, and we’re losing it

“There was a significant volume of social-media traffic that blamed the Navy SEALs for the Boston marathon bombing,” University of Washington professor Kate Starbird said. “It was real tinfoil-hat stuff. So we ignored it.”
Same thing after the mass shooting that killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: a burst of social-media activity calling the massacre a fake, a stage play by “crisis actors” for political purposes.
“After every mass shooting, dozens of them, there would be these strange clusters of activity,” Starbird says. “It was so fringe we kind of laughed at it. That was a terrible mistake. We should have been studying it.”
Starbird argues that these “strange clusters” of wild conspiracy talk, when mapped, point to an emerging alternative media ecosystem on the web of surprising power and reach. There are dozens of other conspiracy-propagating websites such as, and Starbird cataloged 81 of them, linked through a huge community of interest connected by shared followers on Twitter, with many of the tweets replicated by automated bots. alone is roughly equivalent in visitors and page views to the Chicago Tribune, according to, the web-traffic analysis firm.
The true common denominator, she found, is anti-globalism — deep suspicion of free trade, multinational business and global institutions. “To be antiglobalist often included being anti-mainstream media, anti-immigration, anti-science, anti-U.S. government, and anti-European Union,” Starbird says.
Much of it was strangely pro-Russian, too — perhaps due to Russian twitter bots that bombarded social channels during the presidential campaign. Your brain tells you ‘Hey, I got this from three different sources,’” she says. “But you don’t realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn’t know how to vaccinate for it.”

Why It's So Hard to Stop a Cyberattack — and Even Harder to Fight Back

How do you know for certain who did it, or the intent? Retaliation risks accidentally starting a war.
Without being able to attribute the attack, or if there were some uncertainty about who was responsible, it would be very hard to strike back. Unlike conventional attacks, cyberattacks can be difficult to attribute with precision to specific actors. In the event of a major cyberattack, pressure to respond would be immediate—and probably intense. But if a country strikes back and the forensics are erroneous, then the retaliation will have unnecessarily and inadvertently started a war.
This is because governments like the Russian government appear to rely heavily on third parties to develop their cyber weapons and conduct their attacks. This offers them many benefits—deniability being one of them—but it also offers them less control over what their cyber warriors actually do—creating a so called “principle agent problem.”
In other words, an attack that originates from within the Russian cyber world might be the work of the Kremlin—or it might not. This further complicates the choice of response.
Sometimes, the culprit will be clear, of course. But in these cases, the question is how, specifically, to respond.
Some advisors might push for a cyber counter-attack that inflicts equal damage on the guilty party. But this isn't always possible. If the perpetrator is a party like North Korea, then there is no equivalent financial system to target. But should the United States instead use conventional military weapons like a cruise missile, perhaps on Pyongyang's cyber training facilities? A strike like that would clearly risk serious escalation of the conflict. It might be seen as disproportionate if the U.S. financial system had recovered in the interim with relatively minimal real damage.
Even if the U.S. power grid were seriously affected by a cyberattack, however, and the United States knew with a high degree of confidence who the guilty party was, there would be reasons for caution—especially if the attack was an isolated incident and there were no other signs of aggression or malign intent.


  1. It isn't as if the U.S. has never interfered in other sovereign countries elections, politics, etc., but it's not supposed to happen to us. But it probably did and comrade Cheeto is not saying anything about it. Probably because he is complicit. Of course, many of us are outraged at this horrible injustice, mostly because someone did it to us. Bullies don't like it when the tables are turned.

    1. Two things: the Russian system (if you will) is highly targeted and highly effective and the real issue is what are the connections to and threats from Russia and the Trump administration. The latter is far more critical than proving the Russians interfered in the American election.

  2. I see Steve Bannon has been given the boot now. Good thing too.

    1. At least from the National Security Council. I hope from the WH entirely.

    2. You would think with all the money we spend on military our cyber ability would be untouchable; but our nuclear weapons are still programmed with floppy disk, our VA computers can not talk to the military computers, and in general all of our government computing systems are out dated; but we do have a billion dollar fighter aircraft that doesn't work.
      the Ol'Buzzard

    3. I do not understand that. Certainly there must be enough room for graft and corruption in replacing computer systems that it makes no sense to leave them archaic. I understand that the floppy system on the nucs is an active prevention against hacking though.

  3. Don't get me started. Hubby and I are both computer geeks, so we're pretty familiar with the many ways our current internet-centred world could implode. I think the only reason it hasn't happened already is because all countries are more or less equally vulnerable - it's like having a stockpile of nukes and knowing that your enemies do, too. So far nobody's pushed the button. Yet...

    1. Agree that cyber warfare is going to put all systems down once it starts. Just saw an article that says programs are so complicated that it is impossible to prevent all hacking. US nuclear missiles are still on floppy disc to prevent hacking. Our food system is another easy target. Do you have any idea how easy it would be to spread Foot and Mouth Disease or African Swine Fever across North America? That terrifies me more than cyber war.

    2. Thanks for a whole 'nother set of nightmares...


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