Info Ops – Staying Alert

I said in a post last week that I’m going to try to keep you all current on what we know about information operations, as we approach November’s elections and the 2020 presidential election. I’ll post short summaries or longer commentaries if they are warranted. We’ve all got to stay alert for malign influencers.

The FBI has launched two websites, Protected Voices and Combating Foreign Influence.  Protected Voices offers advice on cyberhygiene – they have a set of short videos on things like passwords, browser safety, wi-fi, and router hardening. Looks like they might be useful for internal corporation training or just anyone who has questions about the various topics. Combating Foreign Influence is newer and intends “to educate the public about the threats faced from disinformation campaigns, cyber attacks, and the overall impact of foreign influence on society.”

I’m a little dubious about government initiatives of this sort, but it was the FBI and others who went to President Obama in summer 2016 to tell him that the Russians were doing damage. So I’ll keep an eye on these sites. I also hope that the jackal computer nerds will chime in too.

BuzzFeed has a big article on Russian propaganda operations in the Baltic states. Three news outlets set up in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to spread the Russian point of view without saying that’s what they were doing.

The websites presented themselves as independent news outlets, but in fact, editorial lines were dictated directly by Moscow.

The purpose was to turn Russian speakers in those three countries toward Russia and away from the countries they live in. The article is very detailed, working from Skype calls among the managers of the news outlets. I kept thinking about Fox News as something of an analogy in the United States.

 

 



Dark Hours Open Thread: Is Julian Assange “the Left” Version of Donald Trump?

Were “we” so enamored with our “core virtues” of transparency and populism that a professional narcissist could manage the supreme coup of his serial grifting career? Does Julian Assange have the true Reverse-Midas everything he touches dies… gift?

Gareth Corfield, at The Register (“biting the hand that feeds IT”):

The director of whistleblower support outfit the Courage Foundation has quit after being told to pull support from Barrett Brown following some barbed comments he made about Julian Assange.

Naomi Colvin walked out of the foundation after “three of Courage’s trustees wrote to me demanding that I inform Barrett Brown that he could no longer be a Courage beneficiary, on the basis of ‘nasty adversarial remarks’ about WikiLeaks,” she wrote in a blog post.

Courage works by picking people in legal trouble who it deems worthy of support and then giving them help in a variety of ways, including financially. Those eight “beneficiaries”, as Courage calls them, include Anonymous-linked FBI-baiter Barrett Brown and everyone’s go-to website for Russian-influenced propaganda the embarrassing contents of American governmental messages, Wikileaks.

Nonetheless, Brown’s growing antipathy towards Assange/Wikileaks as the increasingly isolated Wikileaker goes steadily more stir crazy in Ecuador’s London embassy earned him Assange’s ire. So it was that Colvin received missives from Courage trustees ordering her to cut Brown loose, something she would not do…

Courage’s trustees are named on its website as: Assange himself; legal activist Barbara Bukovska; left-wing activist and film-maker John Pilger; Spanish human rights lawyer Renata Avila; Scottish arts organiser Susan Benn; and clothes designer Vivienne Westwood, who modestly bills herself as “co-created punk in the 70s”.

Colvin declined to name the three who demanded she pull the foundation’s support from Brown…

Spencer Ackermann, at the Daily Beast (see tweet at top):

Brown told The Daily Beast: “I’m afraid I cannot agree with the stance, presented by the Courage board to me yesterday via a poorly written email, that I am somehow obligated to not only defend Assange’s rights, as I’m happy to do, but also to refrain from speaking out about the problems facing a movement that I risked a hundred years of prison time in order to defend.”

The short-term result of Assange’s behavior may be to consolidate control over Courage. But it has come at the expense of broken ties with two heavily respected and influential figures within the hacktivist circles from which Assange emerged. At this point, it leaves Assange with more solid support from the extreme right and its media organs than from his original community…

Colvin’s departure from Courage is especially ironic for Assange and speaks to the botched manner in which his allies retaliated against Brown. Colvin led and recently won a fight to prevent the U.K. from extraditing the computer scientist and activist Lauri Love to the United States to face hacking charges. With Assange ostensibly fearing his own prospective extradition, his desire to silence Brown has cost him a key legal asset…



Russian Interference Open Thread: Sen. Claire McCaskill Earns A “Prize”

And I do believe Sen. McCaskill is canny enough to turn this attempt into a weapon against the perennially dissatisfied Never-Dem “true progressives” who bitch more about her than her Repub opponents:

The Russian intelligence agency behind the 2016 election cyberattacks targeted Sen. Claire McCaskill as she began her 2018 re-election campaign in earnest, a Daily Beast forensic analysis reveals. That makes the Missouri Democrat the first identified target of the Kremlin’s 2018 election interference.

McCaskill, who has been highly critical of Russia over the years, is widely considered to be among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats facing re-election this year as Republicans hope to hold their slim majority in the Senate. In 2016, President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by almost 20 points in the senator’s home state of Missouri.

There’s no evidence to suggest that this particular attack was successful. Asked about the hack attempt by Russia’s GRU intelligence agency, McCaskill told The Daily Beast on Thursday that she wasn’t yet prepared to discuss it…

On Friday, Trump is scheduled to chair a meeting of the National Security Council on election vulnerabilities facing the midterm elections—amid persistent criticism, particularly after his Helsinki meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, that he isn’t taking Russian interference seriously…

McCaskill is one of 10 Senate Democrats facing re-election this year in states that Trump won in 2016. Her likely Republican challenger is Josh Hawley, who currently serves as the state’s attorney general. Outside groups and campaign committees have spent more than $15.5 million against McCaskill so far…

I also assume we can count on Hawley to make a bad situation worse for himself, yes?

Much more, including details of the hacking methods, at the link.



Russiagate Open Thread: Clown Car Rogues Gallery, Top to Bottom, Recent & Vintage


 
There doesn’t seem to have been a single nationally-known Republican above the level of coffee boy who wasn’t part of the Russiagate treason squad…


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Interesting Read: “Tim Berners-Lee, the Man Who Created the World Wide Web, Has Some Regrets”

I’m counting on all you tech wizards to explain how and where this all goes wrong, but *I* thought it was interesting. Katrina Brooker, in Vanity Fair:

For people who want to make sure the Web serves humanity, we have to concern ourselves with what people are building on top of it,” Tim Berners-Lee told me one morning in downtown Washington, D.C., about a half-mile from the White House. Berners-Lee was speaking about the future of the Internet, as he does often and fervently and with great animation at a remarkable cadence. With an Oxonian wisp of hair framing his chiseled face, Berners-Lee appears the consummate academic—communicating rapidly, in a clipped London accent, occasionally skipping over words and eliding sentences as he stammers to convey a thought. His soliloquy was a mixture of excitement with traces of melancholy. Nearly three decades earlier, Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. On this morning, he had come to Washington as part of his mission to save it…

Berners-Lee, who never directly profited off his invention, has also spent most of his life trying to guard it. While Silicon Valley started ride-share apps and social-media networks without profoundly considering the consequences, Berners-Lee has spent the past three decades thinking about little else. From the beginning, in fact, Berners-Lee understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation. His prophecy came to life, most recently, when revelations emerged that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election, or when Facebook admitted it exposed data on more than 80 million users to a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s campaign. This episode was the latest in an increasingly chilling narrative. In 2012, Facebook conducted secret psychological experiments on nearly 700,000 users. Both Google and Amazon have filed patent applications for devices designed to listen for mood shifts and emotions in the human voice.

For the man who set all this in motion, the mushroom cloud was unfolding before his very eyes. “I was devastated,” Berners-Lee told me that morning in Washington, blocks from the White House. For a brief moment, as he recalled his reaction to the Web’s recent abuses, Berners-Lee quieted; he was virtually sorrowful. “Actually, physically—my mind and body were in a different state.” Then he went on to recount, at a staccato pace, and in elliptical passages, the pain in watching his creation so distorted.

This agony, however, has had a profound effect on Berners-Lee. He is now embarking on a third act—determined to fight back through both his celebrity status and, notably, his skill as a coder. In particular, Berners-Lee has, for some time, been working on a new software, Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots. On this winter day, he had come to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the World Wide Web Foundation, which he started in 2009 to protect human rights across the digital landscape. For Berners-Lee, this mission is critical to a fast-approaching future. Sometime this November, he estimates, half the world’s population—close to 4 billion people—will be connected online, sharing everything from résumés to political views to DNA information. As billions more come online, they will feed trillions of additional bits of information into the Web, making it more powerful, more valuable, and potentially more dangerous than ever…

The idea is simple: re-decentralize the Web. Working with a small team of developers, he spends most of his time now on Solid, a platform designed to give individuals, rather than corporations, control of their own data. “There are people working in the lab trying to imagine how the Web could be different. How society on the Web could look different. What could happen if we give people privacy and we give people control of their data,” Berners-Lee told me. “We are building a whole eco-system.”

For now, the Solid technology is still new and not ready for the masses. But the vision, if it works, could radically change the existing power dynamics of the Web. The system aims to give users a platform by which they can control access to the data and content they generate on the Web. This way, users can choose how that data gets used rather than, say, Facebook and Google doing with it as they please. Solid’s code and technology is open to all—anyone with access to the Internet can come into its chat room and start coding. “One person turns up every few days. Some of them have heard about the promise of Solid, and they are driven to turn the world upside down,” he says. Part of the draw is working with an icon. For a computer scientist, coding with Berners-Lee is like playing guitar with Keith Richards. But more than just working with the inventor of the Web, these coders come because they want to join the cause. These are digital idealists, subversives, revolutionaries, and anyone else who wants to fight the centralization of the Web. For his part, working on Solid brings Berners-Lee back to the Web’s early days: “It’s under the radar, but working on it in a way puts back some of the optimism and excitement that the ‘fake news’ takes out.”…

It’s hard to believe that anyone—even Zuckerberg—wants the 1984 version. He didn’t found Facebook to manipulate elections; Jack Dorsey and the other Twitter founders didn’t intend to give Donald Trump a digital bullhorn. And this is what makes Berners-Lee believe that this battle over our digital future can be won. As public outrage grows over the centralization of the Web, and as enlarging numbers of coders join the effort to decentralize it, he has visions of the rest of us rising up and joining him. This spring, he issued a call to arms, of sorts, to the digital public. In an open letter published on his foundation’s Web site, he wrote: “While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people—and can be fixed by people.”…