• Disinformation Agents Are Targeting Veterans in Run-Up to 2020 Election

    Disinformation campaigns are targeting U.S. veterans through social media, seeking to tap the group’s influential status in their communities and high voting turnout in order to influence elections and fuel discord. Katerina Patin writes that veterans present an ideal target for foreign actors. In addition to their social status and voting rate, veterans are also more likely to run for office and more likely to work in government than any other demographic.

  • We’re Underestimating China’s Impact on Governance in Latin America: Three Persistent Myths

    China’s growing engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in recent years has captured the attention of policymakers, business leaders and foreign policy observers across the region. Jessica Ludwig writes that much of this discussion has focused on the economic dimensions of the relationship. “But largely absent from the conversation has been a serious, dedicated look at the normative impact of relations with Beijing on governance—and, in particular, on whether closer relationships with China’s party-state authorities will affect prospects for democracy in a region that has—at least theoretically—adopted a consensus around democratic values,” Ludwig writes. “Without a firm, well-rounded foundation of knowledge about China and the priorities of its political leadership, LAC countries are starting from a significantly disadvantaged position when negotiating the terms of the relationship.”

  • U.S. Security Leaders Warn About Russian, Iranian Interference in 2020 Polls

    Top U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have joined together to warn Americans about attempts by Russia, Iran, and other foreign “adversaries” to interfere with next year’s presidential election. “Our adversaries want to undermine our democratic institutions, influence public sentiment, and affect government policies,” the leaders of the Trump’s administration on security matters said in a joint statement released on 5 November. “Russia, China, Iran, and other foreign malicious actors all will seek to interfere in the voting process or influence voter perceptions,” they added.

  • Are Journalists Ready for Foreign Interference in 2020?

    Last month, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released volume two of its investigation into Russian interference, which details an extensive campaign that aims to sow division and undermine American democracy via social media. One of Russia’s key strategies is to target journalists. As the report describes, “Information warfare, at its core, is a struggle over information and truth. A free and open press — a defining attribute of democratic society — is a principal strategic target for Russian disinformation.” By targeting journalists and news outlets in democratic countries, authoritarians weaken a key pillar of democratic societies.

  • Inside the Microsoft Team Tracking the World’s Most Dangerous Hackers

    When the Pentagon recently awarded Microsoft a $10 billion contract to transform and host the U.S. military’s cloud computing systems, the mountain of money came with an implicit challenge: Can Microsoft keep the Pentagon’s systems secure against some of the most well-resourced, persistent, and sophisticated hackers on earth?

  • Officials Just Had Their Last Chance to Road Test Elections Before 2020

    From a security perspective, Tuesday’s odd-year election went off without a hitch: Officials didn’t spot any major disruptions from hacking or disinformation campaigns. But Joseph Marks writes that the fight to protect the 2020 contest is only ramping up. And officials were quick to warn that it will be a far juicier target for foreign actors.

  • Foreign Money Flows into U.S. Politics

    Untold amounts of foreign donations are flowing into America’s political system, with little accountability or limits. Although election experts say it’s impossible to accurately estimate the extent of foreign financial influence over U.S. elections, many agree it has increased substantially since a landmark Supreme Court ruling nearly a decade ago opened the flood gates.

  • The WhatsApp-NSO Group Lawsuit and the Limits of Lawful Hacking

    On 29 October, WhatsApp sued the Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group for installing surveillance malware on the phones of more than a thousand WhatsApp users, including journalists and human rights activists. (The WhatsApp vulnerability that NSO Group exploited was publicly reported in May 2019 and patched shortly thereafter.) WhatsApp sued primarily under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the main federal law criminalizing computer hacking, which also permits private lawsuits. Alan Z. Rozenshtein writes that the complaint is notable for what it doesn’t include: the identity of the “customers” on whose behalf NSO Group installed the malware. But it’s pretty easy to figure out.

  • Depoliticizing Foreign Interference

    Russian interference in the 2016 election was one of the most effective and dangerous foreign operations ever conducted against the United States. Even worse, the risk of foreign meddling is likely to grow in the coming years. Jessica Brandt writes with just a year left before the next presidential election, U.S. leaders are still grappling with foreign interference in the last election. Postmortems of the 2016 campaign—in testimony from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller and a bipartisan report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—have brought renewed attention to the ongoing risks, which have been made more difficult by new actors and new technologies. “As the threat has grown, the political polarization that surrounds election interference has deepened,” she writes, adding:. “Despite this bleak picture, progress is possible.

  • The Danger Is Real: Why We’re All Wired for ‘Constructive Conspiracism’

    Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine, says that the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories should not be dismissed as a mere folly. Rather, we should adopt the concept he calls “constructive conspiracism”: “Sometimes ‘they’ really are out to get you, so it pays to be careful,” Shermer writes. “Imagine you lived three million years ago on the plains of Africa as a tiny small-brained bipedal primate that was highly vulnerable to the region’s many terrifying predators. You hear a rustle in the grass. Is it just the wind or is it a dangerous animal?” Over time, those who imagined the rustle in the grass to be a predator will survive, while those who imagined the rustle to be nothing but the wind will be eaten by the predator, if there was a predator. “Conspiracy theorists have dedicated their lives to searching the long grass for the still-hidden creatures that supposedly engineered these tragedies. They’ll never find them because they don’t exist. But given all the very real predators that have tried to devour us over the eons, you can’t blame them for looking.”

  • Russia Tests New Disinformation Tactics in Africa to Expand Influence

    Russia has been testing new disinformation tactics in an enormous Facebook campaign in parts of Africa, as part of an evolution of its manipulation techniques ahead of the 2020 American presidential election. Unlike past influence campaigns from Russia, the Africa campaign targeted several countries through Arabic-language posts. Russians also worked with locals in the African countries to set up Facebook accounts that were disguised as authentic to avoid detection. The effort was at times larger in volume than what the Russians deployed in the United States in 2016 to help Donald Trump win the presidential election. The campaign underlined how Russia is continuing to aggressively try different disinformation techniques, even as it has come under scrutiny for its online interference methods.

  • As Russia Makes 2020 Play, Democratic Campaigns Say They Are in the Dark, and Experts Fear U.S. Elections Are Vulnerable

    Several Democratic presidential campaigns targeted by a Russia-based operation on Facebook’s popular Instagram app said they had been unaware of the new foreign disinformation efforts until the tech giant announced them publicly last week, raising alarms that American democracy remains vulnerable to foreign interference even after three years of investigations into the Kremlin’s attack on the 2016 election. Some said they were unnerved by the nature of the recent Instagram posts, which seemed to target battleground states and demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the dynamics at play in the 2020 Democratic primary race.

  • Russia Will Test Its Ability to Disconnect from the Internet

    Russia will test its internal RuNet network to see whether the country can function without the global internet, the Russian government announced Monday. The tests will begin after Nov. 1, recur at least annually, and possibly more frequently. It’s the latest move in a series of technical and policy steps intended to allow the Russian government to cut its citizens off from the rest of the world. Patrick Tucker writes that RuNet isn’t expected to improve the online experience for Russian people or companies. It’s all about control, making the country more technologically independent, and reducing the Putin regime’s vulnerability to popular uprising.

  • Emerging Risk: Virtual Societal Warfare

    The evolution of advanced information environments is rapidly creating a new category of possible cyberaggression which involves efforts to manipulate or disrupt the information foundations of the effective functioning of economic and social systems. Researchers are calling this growing threat “virtual societal warfare.”

  • A Brief History of Russian Hackers' Evolving False Flags

    Deception has always been part of the hacker playbook, Andy Greenberg writes in Wired. “But it’s one thing for intruders to hide their tracks, and another to adopt an invented identity, or even frame another country for a cyberattack. Russia’s hackers have done all of the above, and now have gone one step further. In a series of espionage cases, they hijacked another country’s hacking infrastructure and used it to spy on victims and deliver malware.”