• Corporate Defenses Against Information Warfare

    When asked about Russian election interference during his congressional testimony last month, Robert Mueller said: “They’re doing it as we sit here.” To defend the nation against information warfare, the U.S. government has adopted a policy—by default, not by design—of relying on the private sector to police itself, with limited behind-the-scenes government assistance. Facebook’s website says: “Our detection technology helps us block millions of attempts to create fake accounts every day and detect millions more often within minutes after creation.” These numbers sound impressive, but they do not tell the whole story. To assess the effectiveness of company defenses, we must distinguish among three types of fake accounts: bots, fictitious user accounts, and impostor accounts. Russian agents have created and operated all three types of accounts.

     

  • Setting the Stage for U.S. Leadership in 6G

    Every day there are more headlines about China’s rise in 5G, the next generation of wireless communications technologies, and the economic and national security risks to the United States that go along with these developing technologies. These concerns, particularly the threat of critical infrastructure disruptions, are valid—but the plight of the United States is in part self-inflicted. The U.S. government waited too long to tackle the difficult issues surrounding 5G. As a result, China has unprecedented clout on the global stage regarding the deployment and diffusion of advanced communications technologies. With decisive action today, the U.S. can ensure its status as the undisputed leader in wireless technology within 10 years. In doing so, it will lock in the ability to build secure 6G infrastructure with all the accompanying economic and national security benefits.

  • Huawei Technicians Helped African Governments Spy on Political Opponents

    Huawei Technologies Co., the world’s largest telecommunications company, dominates African markets, where it has sold security tools that governments use for digital surveillance and censorship. But Huawei employees have provided other services, not disclosed publicly. Technicians from the Chinese powerhouse have, in at least two cases, personally helped African governments spy on their political opponents, including intercepting their encrypted communications and social media, and using cell data to track their whereabouts. The incident in Uganda and another in Zambia, as detailed in a Wall Street Journal investigation, show how Huawei employees have used the company’s technology and other companies’ products to support the domestic spying of those governments.

  • Assault on Democracy: The New Conspiracism

    Conspiracy theory has always been part of political life. Sometimes far-fetched, sometimes accurate, and sometimes a confusing mix of the two, traditional conspiracy theory tries to peel away deceptive masks to show how the world really works. It demands a cause proportionate to the dire effect. In a recently published book, two scholars argue that in today’s conspiracies, conspiracy and theory have been decoupled. We therefore face a distinctively malignant new phenomenon of conspiracy without the theory. Like all conspiracism, it rests on the certainty that things are not as they seem, but conspiracy without the theory dispenses with the burden of explanation. We see no insistent demand for proof, no exhaustive amassing of evidence, no dots revealed to form a pattern, no close examination of the operators plotting in the shadows. Conspiracy without the theory exists less to explain than to affirm. The result  is toxic for a stable society and democratic politics.

  • How Data Privacy Laws Can Fight Fake News

    Governments from Russia to Iran have exploited social media’s connectivity, openness, and polarization to influence elections, sow discord, and drown out dissent. While responses have also begun to proliferate, more still are needed to reduce the inherent vulnerability of democracies to such tactics. Recent data privacy laws may offer one such answer in limiting how social media uses personal information to micro-target content: Fake news becomes a lot less scary if it can’t choose its readers.

  • Good for Google, Bad for America

    Google’s decision to start an AI lab in China while ending an AI contract with the Pentagon, is disturbing. Goggle may argue that it operates in a world where “AI and its benefits have no borders,” but Peter Thiel argues that this way of thinking works only inside Google’s cosseted Northern California campus, quite distinct from the world outside. “The Silicon Valley attitude sometimes called ‘cosmopolitanism’ is probably better understood as an extreme strain of parochialism, that of fortunate enclaves isolated from the problems of other places — and incurious about them,” he writes. In the 1950s, the cliché was that “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Google makes no such claim for itself; “it would be too obviously false,” Thiel writes. Instead, Google talks about what is good for the world – but “by now we should understand that the real point of talking about what’s good for the world is to evade responsibility for the good of the country.”

  • U.S. Elections Are Still Not Safe from Attack

    Russia’s attack on American elections in 2016, described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent report as “sweeping and systematic,” came as a shock to many. It shouldn’t have. Experts had been warning of the danger of foreign meddling in U.S. elections for years. Already by 2016, the wholesale adoption of computerized voting had weakened safeguards against interference and left the United States vulnerable to an attack. So, too, the shift to digital media and communications had opened new gaps in security and the law that could be used for manipulation and blackmail.

  • Who Leads the U.S. “War” on Disinformation?

    When former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before the House Intelligence Committee last week about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, some saw his comments about Moscow’s ongoing meddling attempts as the most important statement of the day. “It wasn’t a single attempt,” he said when asked about the spread of disinformation and whether Moscow would replicate the efforts again. “They’re doing it as we sit here and they expect to do it during the next campaign.” It’s not clear, however, who can or will lead the charge in this “war on disinformation.” Even as experts say the problem is worsening, it is unlikely that the current divided government could produce anything close to a solution.

  • Foreign Campaign Intervention May Go Way Beyond Russia to China, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia

    The risk of foreign intervention goes far beyond Russia. Indeed, this type of action has happened many times in U.S. history. What’s new in 2020 is that, over the past few years, Russians have shown other nations how easy it is to sow disinformation and disrupt democratic elections. Many countries, including the United States, seek to make the voting process easy so balloting is designed much more for user-friendliness than electoral security. At the same time, technology companies have created social media platforms that are easily exploited through disinformation, false news, and fake videos. What’s more, the use of this technology to disrupt campaigns is cheap and difficult to trace.

  • Combatting Russia’s Assault on Democracies: Lessons from Europe

    A 2018 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says: “For years, Vladimir Putin’s government has engaged in a relentless assault to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Europe and the United States. Mr. Putin’s Kremlin employs an asymmetric arsenal that includes military invasions, cyberattacks, disinformation, support for fringe political groups, and the weaponization of energy resources, organized crime, and corruption.” For people pondering the potential effects of Russian interference in the 2020 elections here in the United States, it is worth understanding what other democracies are doing to confront the same problem and what lessons can be learned from their experiences.

  • State Election Offices Made for an Easy Target for Russian Hackers

    In the months before the 2016 presidential election, one U.S. state received a notification from a federally backed cybersecurity group, warning about suspicious cyber activity directed at its networks. The state IT officials did not share the alert with other state government leaders and as late at January 2018, the same officials reported nothing “irregular, inconsistent, or suspicious” took place before the vote. In fact, GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, had scanned one of the state’s “election-related” domains, according to a new Senate report.

  • The Kremlin Weaponized News: RT and Sputnik

    Russian government media outlets RT and Sputnik perform three functions on behalf of the Kremlin, its policies, and its preferences. The first is “damage control” function for the Russian state during incidents such as the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom. The second is to project Russian strength and construct news agendas favorable to the Kremlin and its outlook. The third function is weakening Western democracies by discrediting democratic, free-market, liberal, and pluralist values.

  • 2020 Election Security Can’t Wait Till 2020

    In the wake of last week’s testimony by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the detailed report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the press coverage has emphasized—understandably—the need to harden U.S. defenses against various forms of cyber interference that Russia—and now Iran, too—appear intent on carrying out in the 2020 election. While it’s true that 2020 election security is critical, it’s important to emphasize that protecting our elections can’t wait until 2020 is upon us. That’s because, if our foreign adversaries’ goal is (as the Senate Intelligence Committee report confirmed) to undermine American confidence in our own democracy, the opportunities to do so are already unfolding.

  • U.S. Election Infrastructure: Troubling Bipartisan Conclusions

    The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released its first of several bipartisan reports about its own investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference on Thursday. This one focused on Russian efforts against U.S. election infrastructure. The finding that dominated headlines was that Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states in 2016. This meant the Russian effort reached far deeper into the U.S. than previously understood by officials. What also caught people’s attention about the report was how heavily redacted it was. The report, with its worrying conclusions, provokes one overwhelming question: What can be done to stop this from happening again?

  • What the Mueller Investigation Was Always About

    In the partisan warfare that dominated last Wednesday’s hearings, we’ve forgotten the point: Our elections are under threat, and the president doesn’t much care. Robert Mueller was originally charged with investigating Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election and that only secondarily was he tasked with figuring out whether the president had obstructed justice by impeding that investigation. The whole point of the Mueller investigation and report is that Russia hacked an election, that it is right now hacking the next election, and that this is a threat to national security and the long-standing American experiment in representative democracy.