• Alphabet-owned jigsaw bought a Russian troll campaign as an experiment

    For more than two years, the notion of social media disinformation campaigns has conjured up images of Russia’s Internet Research Agency, an entire company housed on multiple floors of a corporate building in St. Petersburg, concocting propaganda at the Kremlin’s bidding. But a targeted troll campaign today can come much cheaper—as little as $250, says Andrew Gully, a research manager at Alphabet subsidiary Jigsaw. He knows because that’s the price Jigsaw paid for one last year. Andy Greenberg writes in Wired that as part of research into state-sponsored disinformation that it undertook in the spring of 2018, Jigsaw set out to test just how easily and cheaply social media disinformation campaigns, or “influence operations,” could be bought in the shadier corners of the Russian-speaking web. In March 2018, after negotiating with several underground disinformation vendors, Jigsaw analysts went so far as to hire one to carry out an actual disinformation operation, assigning the paid troll service to attack a political activism website Jigsaw had itself created as a target.

  • A top voting-machine firm is finally taking security seriously

    Over the past 18 months, election-security advocates have been pushing for new legislation shoring up the nation’s election infrastructure. Election-security reform proposals enjoy significant support among Democrats—who control the House of Representatives—and have picked up some Republican cosponsors, too. Timothy B. Lee writes in Wired that such measures, however, have faced hostility from the White House and from the Republican leadership of the Senate. Legislation called the Secure Elections Act, cosponsored by senators James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) last year, aimed to shore up the nation’s election security by providing states with new money to phase out paperless systems. But the Lankford-Klobuchar bill stalled in the face of opposition from the Trump administration and Senate Republicans. At this point, any election reform legislation looks unlikely to pass before the 2020 election.

  • Dystopian Future Watch: Is San Francisco’s facial recognition ban too little, too late?

    Life just keeps creeping along, leading us step-by-step closer to living in a Philip K. Dick dystopian future—in real-time. And often, in our surveillance culture, we are willing participants to work alongside Big Brother. Harmon Leon writes in the Observer that Remember how fun it used to be to see facial recognition and retina scanning in sci-fi movies? We loved it in RoboCop and Blade Runner, right? Now, many of these biometrictechnologies have become a nightmarish reality.

  • Ahead of the 2020 election: National response to confront foreign interference

    Stanford University scholars outline a detailed strategy for how to protect the integrity of American elections – including recommendations such as requiring a paper trail of every vote cast and publishing information about a campaign’s connections with foreign nationals.

  • Russian disinformation on YouTube draws ads, lacks warnings

    Fourteen Russia-backed YouTube channels spreading disinformation have been generating billions of views and millions of dollars in advertising revenue, according to researchers, and had not been labeled as state-sponsored, contrary to the world’s most popular streaming service’s policy. Reuters reports that the channels, including news outlets NTV and Russia-24, carried false reports ranging from a U.S. politician covering up a human organ harvesting ring to the economic collapse of Scandinavian countries. Despite such content, viewers have flocked to the channels and U.S. and European companies have bought ads that run alongside them.

  • Espionage and the Catholic Church from the Cold War to the present

    “How many divisions does the pope have?” This was Stalin’s sarcastic response to Churchill’s request not to let internal developments in Poland upset relations with the pope. While Stalin’s dismissive statement suggested that the Catholic Church was an insignificant power in international affairs, he could not have been farther from the truth. Aaron Bateman writes in War on the Rock that the Holy See has played an important but understudied role in intelligence and diplomacy through its diplomatic service, which is one of the oldest in the world. The extensive presence of the Holy See’s diplomats combined with their neutrality provides them access to unique information in the far corners of the globe.

  • Russia's 2016 Twitter campaign far broader, deeper, and incredibly successful: Symantec

    The archives of the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based troll farm, show a broad, coordinated, and effective campaign which was, in the words of one report, “incredibly successful at pushing out and amplifying its messages.” The Internet Research Agency conducted a campaign on Twitter before the 2016 elections that was larger, more coordinated and more effective than previously known.

  • IS’s English-speaking fighters use Telegram to reinforce faith in the caliphate

    English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up on the terror group’s ability to remain a force in Syria and Iraq. Even as the terror group was losing ground in Syria and Iraq to U.S.-backed forces, and even as IS leadership was encouraging followers to start looking to progress in IS provinces elsewhere, English-speaking supporters turned to Telegram to reinforce their faith in the caliphate.

  • In Israel, former British PM Blair brands Labour leader Corbyn an anti-Semite

    The leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is an anti-Semite, former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said Monday during a visit to Israel. Blair – who was leader of the Labour Party from 1994 and Prime Minister from 1997 until his resignation in 2007 – slammed the “shameful” anti-Semitism crisis that has engulfed his party, when asked if he believed Corbyn himself was anti-Semitic.

  • Big tech surveillance could damage democracy

    Data is often called the oil of the 21st century. The more tech companies know about their users, the more effectively they can direct them to goods and services that they are likely to buy. The more companies know about their users, the more competitive they are in the market. But this business model – what I consider spying machines – has enormous potential to violate civil liberties. Big tech is already being used abroad to enhance the power of repressive regimes, as my work and others’ has shown.

  • The revenge of geography in cyberspace

    In The Revenge of Geography, Robert Kaplan pinpointed the fall of the Berlin Wall as the day when strategists and commentators ceased to believe that physical and national borders mattered to global affairs. Published in 2012, Kaplan urged readers to recover a “sensibility about time and space” he believed lost “in the jet and information ages.” Katherine Mansted writed in The Bridge that as they have since antiquity, geopolitical factors will continue to shape and constrain world affairs in our digital age. Emerging technologies will only up the ante—as underscored by global debates on Huawei’s involvement in the roll-out of 5G, and China-US trade disputes over data localization. Applying a geopolitical lens to events like these will be an essential first step to crafting good strategy to respond.

  • A modest proposal for preventing election interference in 2020

    The years since the 2016 election have been a national trauma that the U.S. shouldn’t be eager to revisit. Yet almost no policy changes have been made as a result of what the country has learned from the Mueller investigation and related events. In this post, I’d like to start assembling a menu of possible reforms that address the lessons learned from what Lawfare sometimes calls L’Affaire Russe. Stewart Baker writes in Lawfare that this is a fraught exercise because the narratives about L’Affaire Russe have diverged so far between Trump supporters and Trump detractors that almost any proposal for change will implicitly contradict the narrative of one camp or the other. “So, to save time, here are my most salient biases in the matter: I’m generally comfortable with most of President Trump’s policy instincts; I’ve spent a lifetime working with intelligence and law enforcement professionals who do battle every day with very real enemies of the United States, Russia among them; and I believe in them and in making government work, which makes me uncomfortable with President Trump’s character and lack of policy-making fine-motor skills,” Baker writes. “With that mixed perspective, I am hopeful there may be room for at least some agreement on things we ought to do differently in future.”

  • Eritrea removed from U.S. terror list

    The United States last week removed Eritrea from a list of countries uncooperative in the fight against terrorism. Until Wednesday, Eritrea was the only African country on the list, and it found itself alongside such pariah nations as Syria, North Korea and Iran.

  • Information operations in the digital age

    From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the spread on social media of anti-Rohingya content in Myanmar and the interference with elections the world over, the past decade has seen democracies around the world become the target of a new kind of information operations.

  • Scam contractors preying on victims of natural disasters

    Following a natural disaster or strong storm like Hurricane Florence, there is usually a second wave of potential destruction – scam artists looking to line their pockets. “After any major weather-related incident, insurance adjusters and contractors swarm the affected area and, unfortunately, some are looking to take advantage of those in distress,” says one expert.