Russia's use of Social Media channels and the Internet in Government-Government warfare

DNC email server hacked in 2015 says private security firm that did analysis

(November 8, 2017)

The hack of the Democratic National Committee's email service proved crucial to the leaks that brought down the Clinton Campaign in 2016. It's well known that the DNC's IT department ignored warnings from the NSA and FBI for several months. They then turned to a private company, CrowdStrike, because they couldn't trust the FBI to treat them fairly -- given what was going on concerning the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's email policies as Secretary of State. CrowdStrike had in its staff a highly experience cyber-security sleuth who had dealt with this sort of attack previously.

Social media firms under scrutiny for Russia Meddling, Facebook showed Russias adverts to 126 million people

(November 1, 2017)

In written testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, Facebook admitted as many as 126 million people saw content posted by the Internet Research Agency. That innocuously named organization is a Russian Troll Farm that's thought to be closely allied with Russian Intelligence, and was deeply connected to the social media network manipulations thought to be committed by Russia during the 2016 USA elections. Advertising purchased by the Internet Research Agency is thought to have reached over 11 million people. Twitter's testimony disclosed there were nearly 3,000 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, which posted over 130,000 tweets. Another 37,000 accounts linked to Russia, but seemingly not associated with the Internet Research Agency, posted over 1.4 million tweets.

The Internet Research Agency operates out of St. Petersburg Russia. It's known thanks to reporting over the last several years that the IRA employs a large staff who post fact-manipulating content on blogs, or social media posts, or comments on websites. Their tactic is to make "Viral" content that draws attention -- for example they might unleash a flood of tweets on a hashtag in order to generate a trending hashtag that will then get news coverage by news editors looking at whatever is trending on Twitter. Who cares if that trending thing is all phoney-baloney made up nonsense that's politically manipulative?

NY Times on Russia's new Theory of War - Information gamed as fake news to disrupt reality

(September 13, 2017)

Russia hacked the 2016 US elections, getting Donald Trump elected in the process, giving us all headaches and the prospect of the USA being ruined. The NY Times and other news outlets have pushed this story from many angles. This particular article covers not the hacks on the election system, but the information warfare that preceeded the election, and has been aimed at other countries as well. It's been widely reported since 2014 at least that Russia-intelligence-service-connected-companies are operating "spam farms" that spew targeted content into social media networks, into blog comments, and into fake-news-blog websites. The purpose of these operations is to make the population believe fictions, and to act on those ficitious ideas.

For example a story surfaced in Germany a couple years ago that a young girl had been raped by Muslim refugees of the sort that have flooded into Germany thanks to the Syrian civil war. The police were covering up the crime, supposedly, for some unknown reason. RT News and Sputnik News acted as amplifiers to other social media postings and protest rallies. The thing is, there was no truth to the story. There had been a young girl arrested who initially told the story of being raped, but then she recanted that story to cover up the truth of some other event in her life. These Russia-connected organizations amplified the false story, and it became a large domestic issue spreading the idea that Merkel was dangerously accepting immigrants who were raping people right and left, and it even became a diplomatic issue between Russia and Germany. All over a piece of fake news amplified by actors connected to the Russian government.

This sort of misinformation can, and has, swayed recent elections. I have collected several news reports on this topic going back a few years at Russia's use of Social Media channels and the Internet in Government-Government warfare

Facebook sold ads to Russian 'troll farm' (fake news outfit) during 2016 US election

(September 6, 2017)

A big question from the 2016 US national elections is just how much influence Russia exerted over the results. It's being widely reported that Russians supposedly hacked the Democratic National Committee email system, and that hundreds of "fake news" websites connected to Russians were set up to manipulate beliefs of the public. There are reports going back to 2014 of Russian 'troll farm' websites spewing fake news to manipulate elections all over the world. Now the Washington Post reports that Facebook discovered they allowed a Russian troll farm company to launch advertising targeting the 2016 election chances of Hillary Clinton and others.

Top-secret NSA report details Russian spear-fishing attack on US election infrastructure in October 2016

(June 5, 2017)

While it's widely reported that Russians built a social-media-warfare system which they're using to undermine elections in the USA and elsewhere, The Intercept has been yelling loudly "not so fast" because the allegations of Russian interference aren't verified. If we want to accuse another government of hacking our elections, or those of Moldova or Bulgaria or Montenegro or France or other countries, there'd better be solid proof, if only because the consequence of such an accusation is a possible war.

Today, The Intercept (the news site that's been calling for caution) released an explosive report detailing an effort by Russian Intelligence services to directly hack into USA election systems. They were anonymously handed a top-secret NSA report, that they've analyzed and verified, detailing NSA's documentation of a "Spear-Fishing" attack launched by Russian operatives against election agencies around the country. The goal appeared to be interfering with voter registration confirmation systems.

It's not known whether the attack was successful, just that it occurred.

Russian think tank planned to influence the U.S. election, new documents reveal

(May 27, 2017) A Russian government-controlled think tank had outlined plans on how to swing the 2016 U.S. election toward Donald Trump, according to a Reuters report Thursday. New documents reveal a strategy of using social media to bolster Mr. Trump and undermine faith in America’s electoral system. William Brangham learns more from former CIA officer John Sipher and Ned Parker of Reuters. The Reuters report concerns two 'confidential' documents from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, which was part of the successor to the KGB. These documents provide the framework and rationale for Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 US elections.

Clinton Watts' in-depth explanation of Russia's social media warfare strategy

(April 5, 2017) Last week Security Analyst Clint Watts' explosive testimony in the Senate Intelligence Committee exposed an information warfare system created by the Russian Intelligence services. The strategy includes fake news websites, and fake social media accounts, that worked synergistically together to sow doubt and confusion. They are targeting both individuals and the population at large. A key thing is prior to the Internet, for a country to conduct direct actions in another country required that country to station staff in the target country, and set up organizations like newspapers. With the Internet, they (e.g. the Russians) can stay in their own country, their staff doesn't have to risk traveling to the target country, because it can all be done remotely. In other words, while social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc) have arguably enriched our lives, it's possible to build amazing propaganda systems on those networks.

Security Analyst Clinton Watts study of Russian social media fake news streams

(April 1, 2017) In July 2016, immediately following the Attempted Coup in Turkey, fake news appeared on RT News and Sputnik News, both known as Russian Propaganda outlets, claiming that a US Military Base in Turkey had been overrun threatening the security of the large nuclear weapons cache stored at that base. Within a few minutes a whole flotilla of bot accounts on social media systems (Twitter, et al) were echoing the news release. This and other details were the subject of testimony in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing of March 30, 2017. Clinton Watts was one of those giving testimony, giving us a clue to how social media technology is being currently utilized. The big question is whether Russia's goal ended with Trumps becoming President, or whether they're continuing to meddle in US and European politics. This is a technology story because of the means, that Russia is using channels on the Internet to conduct this warfare.

Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's hacking of 2016 elections

(April 1, 2017) In the 2016 elections, it's now clear that Russia's President Vladimir Putin ordered a disinformation campaign aimed to subvert American Democracy and the campaign. They had a clearly preferred winner, Donald Trump, and utilized fake news and networks of social media bots to spread propaganda. The goal appears to be weakening Russia's major adversaries, especially the USA and NATO, so that Russia can act more freely in the world. The method, covert propaganda issued through social media, is a lot less expensive than a fighting war, and less risky since a direct battle between USA and Russia might bring in nuclear weapons. These hearings, conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee, are very different from the outright circus occurring in the House Intelligence Committee. The discussion focuses on the threat posed by Russia's use of 'active measures', active propaganda usage, and has experts describing the tools and strategies employed by the Russians. Further, the experts describe how the Trump Administration is complicit with Russia, speaking Russia-sourced talking points, and apparently collaborating with Russia.

The Russian Troll Factory in St. Petersburg

(August 12, 2015) The 'Internet Research Agency' is a Russian-intelligence-connected operation for constructing fake news. It is said the purpose is to affect internal dissent inside Russia. The facility is located in St. Petersburg, in a four-story building where hundreds of people work. An 'activist' managed to be hired to work in the Troll Factory, and talks about its operation. Every operative receives instructions via their computer as to the message to push, and they're to go about posting information on social media networks related to those instructions.

Russia’s disinformation campaign in Europe

(July 3, 2015) The Russian government has invested immense resources into media networks in Europe. The Russian state-media complex has established news and media outlets in the local languages of many European countries through which the Kremlin attempts to influence European discourse and public opinion on the Ukraine crisis. How does the Russian state-media complex use social media, political partnerships, and financial incentives to influence European media outlets? How successful is the media campaign launched by the Russian government? Where are the next targets of the Russian disinformation campaign? How could and should the EU respond?

Russia's Online Troll Army -- WGBH

(June 8, 2015) The Internet can be described as a gushing sewer of questionable information. It's bad enough that people honestly think up crazy things to say. In some cases governments hire people to purposely skew the conversation by putting in fake information, especially in comments. Maybe 'nobody' reads the comments section any more, but sometimes the comment section of a news website can host heated debates, and be a prime zone for spreading disinformation.

Why are Russian trolls spreading online hoaxes in the U.S.?

(June 8, 2015) Russia's Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg Russia hires hundreds of people to post fake-news comments on websites, and to post fake news websites. The result is to amplify fake news and subvert the truth. The purpose in this report is to 'pollute' the Internet so that Russians cannot trust what they read on the Internet, and thereby stifle home-grown Russian activism.

Trolling for Putin: Russia's information war explained - Agence France Presse

(April 28, 2015) Lyudmila Savchuk says it was money that wooed her into the ranks of the Kremlin's online army, where she bombarded website comment pages with eulogies of President Vladimir Putin, while mocking his adversaries. After two months she quit the so-called 'troll factory' outside St. Petersburg, after having documented its operation. Now she is showing journalists how the troll factory works.

Russia's Propaganda Machine -- Vice News

(April 27, 2015) The Kremlin needs to rationalize the efforts to topple Ukraine's government. To do so, it's creating the impression Russians inside Ukraine are being slaughtered by the Ukraine government, and that the slaughter could move to Russia. In other words, fake news. In part it's a 'Cult of Personality' aiming to build up Vladimir Putin as a model for Russia. In part it's defaming the West as clueless and incompetent.

Russia has released The Kraken on the Internet - The Young Turks

(June 3, 2014) A 'troll farm' or 'troll factory' was disclosed by BuzzFeed journalists, documenting a fake news trolling operation run by the Russian Government in St. Petersburg. Plans for the facility were leaked to Western press by a secretive Russian hacker collective, but are understandably difficult to verify. It is easy to find comments on blogs, tweets, facebook postings, etc that are curiously pro-Russia. Often the languaging is strange as if the writer understands very little English.