• Midterms first Kremlin hacking target revealed: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri)

    In 2016, on orders of President Vladimir Putin, the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence branch, launched a broad and effective hacking and disinformation campaign to help Donald Trump win the presidency. The Kremlin is already busy orchestrating another hacking and disinformation campaign to shape the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections.

  • With hacking of U.S. utilities, Russia could move from cyberespionage toward cyberwar

    Even before the revelation on 23 July that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer systems of U.S. electric utilities and could have caused blackouts, government agencies and electricity industry leaders were working to protect U.S. customers and society as a whole. These developments highlight an important distinction of conflict in cyberspace: between probing and attacking. The distinction between exploiting weaknesses to gather information – also known as “intelligence preparation of the battlefield” – and using those vulnerabilities to actually do damage is impossibly thin and depends on the intent of the people doing it. Intentions are notoriously difficult to figure out. In global cyberspace they may change depending on world events and international relations. The dangers – to the people of the United States and other countries both allied and opposed – underscore the importance of international agreement on what constitutes an act of war in cyberspace and the need for clear rules of engagement.

  • Gun play: The rise and fall of Maria Butina's wannabe Russian NRA

    Maria Butina’s motives, movements, and connections have become a subject of intense scrutiny and debate, and have resulted in a diplomatic standoff with Moscow. But her sudden emergence seven years ago — at the age of 22 — as a well-connected gun-rights activist also caught many off guard in Russia, where the gun issue has long been on the political fringe.

  • Between you, me, and Google: Problems with Gmail's “Confidential Mode”

    With Gmail’s new design rolled out to more and more users, many have had a chance to try out its new “Confidential Mode.” While many of its features sound promising, what “Confidential Mode” provides isn’t confidentiality. At best, the new mode might create expectations that it fails to meet around security and privacy in Gmail.

  • Extremists’ crimes in Germany down, but number of extremists rising

    Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, in a new report says extremists’ criminal activity in Germany has declined, but that the numbers of potential extremists has risen. The BfV’s annual report especially noted a sharp increase in members of the radical far-right Reichsbürger movement.

  • Senate committees to hold hearings on Russia, recommend additional punitive measures

    Two Senate committees – the Foreign Relations Committee and the Banking Committee – announced they will hold a series of hearings on Russia. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tasked Senators Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, with holding hearings on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and asked them to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter what he called “Russian malign behavior.”

  • Maria Butina's own words belie claim that charges are “trumped up”

    Maria Butina was arrested in Washington, D.C. on 15 July on charges of illegally acting as an agent of the Russian government in a covert operation aimed at infiltrating the U.S. political establishment. According to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a 21 July phone call that Maria Butina’s arrest was an “unacceptable act” and the charges against her were “trumped-up.”

  • Attacks by Muslim terrorists receive far greater press attention than attacks by non-Muslims

    Terrorist attacks committed by Muslim extremists receive 357 percent more U.S. press coverage than those committed by non-Muslims. The findings, based on all terrorist attacks in the United States between 2006 and 2015, show that terrorist attacks committed by non-Muslims (or where the religion was unknown) received an average of 15 headlines, while those committed by Muslim extremists received 105 headlines. The disparity in coverage is out of sync with reality, given that between 2008 and 2016 white and rightwing terrorists carried out nearly twice as many terrorist attacks as Muslim extremists.

  • Military spending did not “crowd out” welfare investment in Middle East prior to Arab Spring

    New findings dispute “guns versus butter” narrative as a major factor behind the Arab Spring. Researchers caution against uncritically applying lessons from Western nations to interpret public policy decisions in the Middle East.

  • Ricin attack plotters in Germany tested biological weapon on a hamster

    German prosecutors have arrested the wife of a Tunisian man who was detained last month for plotting a biological attack. The couple bought a hamster to test a chemical substance before they were going to use it in a planned terrorist attack.

  • Israeli media: Mossad gave Europeans critical intel to thwart Iranian terror attack in Paris

    The Israeli intelligence service Mossad helped thwart a major Iranian terrorist attack in a Parisian suburb last month. The Mossad gathered intelligence which was passed on to authorities in Germany, France, and Belgium that led to the arrest of a cell headed by an Iranian diplomat. The intelligence cooperation between Israel and European countries prevented a planned bomb attack on the annual National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) rally in the town of Villepinte on 30 June.

  • DOJ releases Cyber-Digital Task Force report

    The Department of Justice last Thursday released a report produced by the Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the cyber-enabled threats confronting the United States and details the ways in which the DOJ combats those threats. The first section of the report focuses on what DOJ describes as “the most pressing cyber-enabled threats confronting the United States: the threat posed by malign foreign influence operations.”

  • Why Russian spies really like American universities

    If the charges against Maria Butina are accurate, she’s only the latest in a long line of Russian agents to go undercover on U.S. campuses. Dating back to the Soviet era, Russian spies have sought to take advantage of academia’s lax security, collaborative, global culture, and revolving door with government. Russian intelligence understands that today’s professor of international relations may be tomorrow’s assistant secretary of state, and vice versa. Although cyber-spying and hacking offer opportunities to glean secrets at less personal risk, the traditional strategies of human espionage persist, and sending a spy to school is prominent among them.

  • DOJ’s new initiative: Alerting public to foreign-influence activities targeting U.S. democracy

    The Department of Justice on Thursday announced that DOJ will begin to alert the public about foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy. The new DOJ initiative is aims to counter hacking and disinformation campaigns such as the one Russia undertook in 2016. The government will inform American companies, private organizations, and individuals that they are being covertly attacked by foreign actors attempting to affect elections or the political process. “Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda,” he said.

  • New cosponsors for the bipartisan DETER Act

    More lawmakers have joined Senators Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) in sponsoring the DETER Act. DETER uses the threat of powerful sanctions to dissuade hostile foreign powers from meddling in U.S. elections by ensuring that they know well in advance that the costs will outweigh the benefits. “We must make sure Putin understands that we will not overlook his hostilities, and he will face punishing consequences if he tries to interfere in our elections again,” Rubio said. “Vladimir Putin would like nothing more than to continue sowing discord and meddling in Western democracies without consequence. Passing this legislation would help improve Americans’ faith in their system of government and send an unmistakable signal to the Kremlin that it’s not worth trying it again,” said Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).