• “Our task was to set Americans against their own government”: Russian troll-farm operative

    New information about the operation of a Russian “troll farm” and its role in Russia’s disinformation dissemination system, sheds new light on Russia’s broad effort to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential race. The fake stories and false news created and disseminated to millions of American voters by the operatives at the Internet Research Agency (IRA), in the words of an IRA operative, aimed to “rock the boat” on divisive issues like race relations, gun control, immigration, and LGBT rights. The IRA also used the internet to hire 100 American activists to hold 40 rallies in different U.S. cities. These activists did not know they were working for a Russian government agency, and the people who came to the rallies were unaware that they were taking part in Russian-organized and financed events.

  • Why are Russian media outlets hyping the Mueller investigation?

    Four major Russia investigations are underway in Washington, along with at least six related federal inquiries. Russia’s most popular media outlets compare the investigations to those of the McCarthy era, calling them “witch hunts” focused on a “phantom menace.” Amid all the emphasis of “Russophobia run wild,” however, Russian media coverage seems to have become more positive in regard to one issue: The Justice Department’s investigation led by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. While state-sponsored outlets continue to deny any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, they’ve begun to applaud Mueller’s efforts to look into the past business deals of the U.S. president and his team. In affirming the U.S. investigation into Trump’s business practices, Kremlin strategists can co-opt the charges of Putin’s critics and direct them at Trump. They can argue that the U.S. is neither more virtuous than Russia nor more efficacious. And they can do so without having to acknowledge that a Mueller-style investigation into top-level government malfeasance would never be allowed in their own country today.

  • Russia used Pokemon Go "to sow division” in run-up to 2016 presidential election

    CNN broke the news yesterday that Russian government hackers did not only use Facebook, Twitter, and Google platforms for a broad, systematic, and sophisticated disinformation campaign in the run-up to the 2016 election – they also used the popular video game Pokemon Go. The game was used to promote a Black Lives Matter-like message about police brutality, aiming to discourage African American voters from going to the polls, while creating a White backlash against those criticizing the police.

  • U.S. bans Russian anti-virus software after Israel warns about hacking

    The U.S. government recently prohibited federal agencies from using the products of the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. Kaspersky’s anti-virus software is used by 400 million people globally – and the off-the-shelf software was installed on many U.S. government systems. Israeli intelligence officials warned their U.S. counterparts that Russian government hackers had morphed Kaspersky’s anti-virus software into a search engine for sensitive information. The classified data was then extracted back to Russian intelligence systems. Kaspersky’s denials notwithstanding, cyber experts say it is not technically possible that Kaspersky Lab’s officials were ignorant of the Russian government’s use of the company product.

  • Could we reverse a hacked presidential election?

    What would happen if we discover that Russians hacked into the results of the 2016 presidential election and tipped the outcome in favor of Donald Trump — literally changed the vote totals? “It is cold comfort that we have no evidence so far that Moscow actually manipulated vote tallies to change the election’s outcome,” the authors write. But what if it emerges that Russian operatives were successful on that front as well? Setting Trump aside, what if a foreign government succeeds in the future in electing an American president through active vote manipulation? The Constitution offers no clear way to remedy such a disaster.

  • U.S. voting machines can be easily, quickly hacked: DEFCON report

    DEFCON yesterday released its much-anticipated report, detailing findings from its first-ever “Voting Machine Hacking Village.” The Voting Village was held three months ago at DEFCON25 in Las Vegas. The report highlighted how every piece of equipment in the Village – which included voting machines and poll books still largely in use in current U.S. elections – was effectively breached in a matter of minutes by hackers. “What the report shows is that if relative rookies can hack a voting system so quickly, it is difficult to deny that a nefarious actor – like Russia – with unlimited time and resources, could not do much greater damage,” said Voting Village organizer and University of Chicago cybersecurity instructor, Jake Braun. “That threat becomes ever more poignant when you consider they could hack an entire line of voting machines, remotely and all at once via the supply chain.”

  • Russia already moving to the next cyber incursion in U.S.

    “From a technological point of view, this [hacking U.S. voting machines] is something that is clearly doable,” said Sherri Ramsay, the former director of the federal Central Security Service Threat Operations Center, which handles cyber threats for the military and the National Security Agency. “For us to turn a blind eye to this, I think that would be very irresponsible on our part.” Cybersecurity experts are increasingly concerned that Russia and others are already moving to the next incursion. “What really concerns me is having suffered these probing attacks last year, we may be in for an even more sophisticated, more potentially effective assault next time around—and oh, by the way, others were watching,” said Ambassador Doug Lute, a retired Army lieutenant general who served as the permanent representative to NATO from 2013 to 2017.

  • Kaspersky antivirus hack a wake-up call for business

    Russian state-sponsored hackers were able to steal National Security Agency (NSA) material on methods the NSA uses to conduct cyber espionage as well as how the agency helps defend critical U.S. government networks. An NSA contractor placed the material on his or her private computer – a violation of the agency’s security policy – and the private computer reportedly had anti-virus software belonging Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab installed. The software detected the unsecured classified material and alerted Russian intelligence to its presence. Michael Sulmeyer, the director of the Belfer Center’s Cyber Security Project at Harvard University, says geopolitics should guide some in the private sector to follow the U.S. government’s lead in removing Kaspersky’s software from their networks.

  • Microsoft investigating Russian government operatives’ purchase of campaign ads

    Microsoft is reviewing its accounts to determine whether Russian government operatives and trolls aligned with the Russian government purchased ads on Bing or other company products in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential race. The company’s decision to conduct an internal investigation comes as Microsoft’s tech industry peers — Facebook, Google, and Twitter — are dealing with probes by the U.S. Congress into the extent to which Kremlin-backed agents spread disinformation on their platforms around Election Day.

  • Russia-focused extremists, conspiracy peddlers spread junk news on U.S. military, national security

    Social media provides political news and information for both active duty military personnel and veterans. Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute (OII) analyzed the subgroups of Twitter and Facebook users who spend time consuming junk news from websites that target U.S. military personnel and veterans with conspiracy theories, misinformation, and other forms of junk news about military affairs and national security issues. Among the findings: Over Twitter, there are significant and persistent interactions between current and former military personnel and a broad network of extremist, Russia-focused, and international conspiracy subgroups

  • Russia recruited YouTubers to bash “Racist B*tch” Hillary Clinton over rap beats

    According to the YouTube page for “Williams and Kalvin,” the Clintons are “serial killers who are going to rape the whole nation.” Donald Trump can’t be racist because he’s a “businessman.” Hillary Clinton’s campaign was “fund[ed] by the Muslim.” Williams and Kalvin’s content was pulled from Facebook in August after it was identified as a Russian government-backed propaganda account. According to Clint Watts, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, using third party contractors from both inside Russia and countries with cheap labor is a method used by the Kremlin to “muddy the waters on attribution” of propaganda. “Often, (the Kremlin) will contract out entities to do this so they can say, ‘You can’t prove that it’s us,’” Watts told the Daily Beast. “It’s pretty routine for them to try to gain resources through third parties and contract cutouts.”

  • Russian agents bought ads on Google platforms, targeting voters in crucial swing states

    Google says Russian agents have purchased ads on YouTube, Google Search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network. Some of the ads touted Donald Trump, while other ads aimed to help Trump indirectly: They promoted the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and the Green party candidate Jill Stein in order to weaken Hillary Clinton among left-leaning voters. The purpose of other ads was to sow discord, deepen social divisions, and intensify racial animosity: These ads talked about the threat to America posed by immigrants, African American activists, and members of the LGBT community, aiming to intensify backlash against these groups, and the politicians who spoke on their behalf, among White and more traditional voters. Many of the ads targeted voters in crucial swing states.

  • Social media is “first tool” of 21st-century warfare – and it’s cheaper than F-35: Sen. Warner

    Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that there are three things the committee has already established beyond doubt: Russia hacked both political parties and used that information in President Donald Trump’s favor; Russia attacked but did not fully break into the voter registration systems of twenty-one states; Russia used paid advertising and fake accounts on social media to disseminate misinformation to voters. The sophistication of Russia’s cyber campaign was “unprecedented,” Warner said. It was also cheap. Warner noted the amount Moscow spent in total influencing the American, French, and Dutch elections was about a quarter the cost of building an F-35 fighter jet. “If Russia’s goal was primarily to sow chaos … and secondarily elect Mr. Trump, they had a pretty good rate of return,” he said.

  • Software “containers” increase computer security

    ONR has awarded the University of Wisconsin–Madison $6.1 million to research what are known as containers. While not a household word for average computer users, containers are increasingly popular in the tech world. Containers help software run reliably when moved from one computing environment to another, such as from an individual’s laptop to the cloud. These complex programs pull together everything an application needs to work so those elements stay together when the application migrates.

  • ONR awards GrammaTech $9 million for cyber-hardening security research

    Ithaca-based GrammaTech has been awarded a $9 million, three-year contract from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), a division of the United States Department of the Navy, to perform research and development into cutting-edge techniques for protecting software from cyber-attacks. The goal is for end users to be able to transform their critical applications to shrink the attack surface, improve performance, lower memory consumption, and reduce complexity—all without breaking the application or disrupting operations.