Case study on information war: Examination of recent Russian information warfare activities and capabilities

Three snips from the conclusion of Volodymyr Lysenko and Catherine Brooks, Russian information troops, disinformation, and democracy, 23 First Monday no. 7 (May 7, 2018:

This work illuminates some of the activities, investments, and strategies behind a case of contemporary information war, an approach that will be ever more prevalent in this increasingly digital world. We provide evidence showing these kinds of patterns emanating from Russia, given the potential effects Russia’s information-based strategies may be having around the globe, and especially in electoral processes (e.g., in the U.S., France, and Germany). Indeed these findings show that in this exemplary case of Russian information-based activities, digital hacking is so far an “easy and cheap road” for Russia to deploy the kinds of disruptions that can interrupt democratic processes or governing efforts around the world. We investigate Russian information-based global influences or “hacks” in order to generate new ideas about disruptive digital activities that can emanate from any country and bring effects that are potentially global in size.

we can see an important chain of command worth reviewing. Based on our findings, we argue that Putin’s geopolitical advisors point to areas of concern and political tension, and those get translated into hacking assignments taking place in the FSB, GRU, possibly the SVR (Sluzhba vneshney razvedki, Foreign Intelligence Service), or by paid civil trolls or “unpaid” cyber-patrol “volunteers”. These assignments are sent via curators in these contexts who, in turn, distribute assignments to their subordinate hackers and trolls. Such chain of command may explain why the DNC was independently and simultaneously hacked by the APT 29 (FSB) and APT 28 (GRU). That is, the assignments were likely passed along to the FSB and GRU independently, to increase the likelihood of the successful hack.

Putin admitted in May 2017 that there may exist some “patriotic” hackers who may fight for Russia globally on their own, and may have interfered in a recent U.S. election. At the same time, he denied state-level interference. We assert that this kind of reference to volunteer patriots is similar to his reasoning about Russian involvement in Ukrainian disruptions, that attacks were simply activities of average citizens and not of state-sponsored employees and troops. There’s a blurring of lines we find in the case of Russia between state-sponsored workers and those can be viewed as average citizens being encouraged and rewarded for hacking activities.

As hybrid war is on the rise — that is, war involving both physical military strategies and information/cyber tactics — new kinds of information/cyber strategies will continue to emerge. The type of attacks or disinformation efforts will shift over time, by country, and with rapid advancements in digital life. With this work, we offer an in-depth investigation of a case of hybrid war, focusing on information/cyber strategies in particular. From this case we can consider other cases underway and ideally, begin to consider the kinds of peace-keeping strategies in an information era in order to maintain a healthy geopolitical climate.

Recommended. — Joe

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