1 August 2018 – “With respect to Russia, I agree with the Director of National Intelligence and others,” said Tonya Ugoretz, Director of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center during a televised panel session on 20 July, “that they are the most aggressive foreign actor that we see in cyberspace.
“For good reason,” she continued, “there is a lot of focus on their activity in 2016 against our election infrastructure and their malign-influence efforts.”
For those who didn’t notice, last week Facebook announced that they shut down thirty two accounts that the company says “engaged in coordinated political agitation and misinformation efforts ahead of November’s midterm elections, in an echo of Russian activities on the platform during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.”
So far, so good.
But, so what?
About a month and a half ago, this column introduced what may be the most important topic to come up so far this century. It’s the dawning of a global cyberwar that some of us see as the Twenty-First Century equivalent of World War I.
Yeah, it’s that big!
Unlike WWI, which started just over one hundred years ago (28 July 1914, to be exact), this new global war necessarily includes a stealth component. It’s already been going on for years, but is only now starting to make headlines.
The reason for this stealth component, and why I say it’s necessary for the conduct of this new World War is that the most effective offensive weapon being used is disinformation, which doesn’t work too well when the attackee sees it coming.
Previous World Wars involved big, noisy things that made loud bangs, bright flashes of light, and lots of flying shrapnel to cause chaos and confusion among the unfortunate folks they’re aimed at. This time, however, the main weapons cause chaos and confusion simply by messing with peoples’ heads.
Wars, generally, reflect the technologies that dominate the cultures that wage them at the times they occur. During the Bronze Age, wars between Greek, Persian, Egyptian, etc. cultures involved hand-to-hand combat using sharp bits of metal held in the hand (swords, knives) or mounted on sticks (spears, arrows) that combatants cut each other up with. It was a nasty business where combatants generally got up close and personal enough to touch each other while hacking each other to bits.
By the Renaissance, firearms made warfare less personal by allowing combatants to stand off and lob nasty explosive junk at each other. It was less personal, but infinitely more destructive.
In the Nineteenth Century’s Mechanical Age, they graduated to using machines to grind each other up. Grinding people up is also a nasty business, but oh-so-effective for waging War.
The Twentieth Century introduced mass production to the art of warfare with weapons wielded by a few souls that could turn entire cities into junkyards in a few seconds.
That made such an ungodly mess that people started hiring folks to run their countries who actually believed in Jesus Christ’s idea of being nice to people (or at least not exterminating them en masse)! That led to a solid fifty years when the major civilizations stepped back from wars of mass destruction, and only benighted souls who still hadn’t gotten the point went on rampages.
The moral of this story is that countries like to choose up teams for a game called “War,” where the object is for one team to sow chaos and destruction in the other team’s culture. The War goes on until one or the other team cries “Uncle,” and submits to the whims of the “winning” team. Witness the Treaty of Versailles that so humiliated the German people (who cried “Uncle” to end WWI) that they were ready to listen to the %^&* spewed out by Adolf Hitler.
In the past, the method of playing War was to kill as many of the other team’s effectives (warriors) as quickly as possible. That sowed chaos and confusion among them until they (and their support networks ̶ can’t forget their support networks!) lost the will to fight.
Fast forward to the Information Age, and suddenly nobody needs the mess and inconvenience of mass physical destruction, when they can get the same result by raising chaos and confusion directly in the other team’s minds through attacks in cyberspace? As any pimply faced teen hacker can tell you, sowing chaos and confusion in cyberspace is cheap, easy, and (for the right kind of personality) a lot of fun.
You can even convince yourself that you’re not really hurting anyone.
Cyberwarfare is so inexpensive that even countries like North Korea, which is basically dead broke and living on handouts from China, can afford to engage in it.
Mike Rogers (former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee), speaking at a panel discussion on CSPAN 2 on 20 July 2018 listed four “bad actors” of the nation-state ilk: North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China. These four form the main opposition to the United States in this cyberwar.
Basically, the lines are drawn between western-style democracies (U.S.A., UK, EU, Canada, Mexico, etc.) and old-fashioned fascistic autocracies (the four mentioned, plus a host of similar regimes, such as Turkey and Syria)
Gee, that looks ideologically like the Allied and Axis powers duking it out during World War II. U.S.A., UK, France, etc. were on the “democracy” side with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Japan on the “autocracy” side.
It’s telling that the autocratic Stalinist regime in Russia initially came in on the Fascist side. They were fascist buddies with Germany until Hitler stabbed them in the back with Operation Barbarossa, where Germany massively attacked the western Soviet Union along an 1,800-mile front. That betrayal was the reason Stalin flipped to the “democracy” team, even though they were his ideological enemies. Of course, cooperation between Russia and the West lasted about a microsecond past the German surrender on 7 May 1945. After that, the Cold War began.
So, what we’re dealing with now is a reprise of World War II, but mainly with cyberweapons and a somewhat different cast of characters making up the teams.
So far, the reality-show titled “The Trump Administration” has been actively aiding and abetting our adversaries. This problem seems to be isolated in POTUS, with lower levels of the U.S. government largely running around screaming, “The sky is falling!”
Facebook’s action shows that others in the U.S. are taking the threat seriously, despite anti-leadership from the top.
How big a shot across the Russian cyberjuggernaut’s bow Facebook’s action is remains to be seen. A shot across the bow is only made to get the other guy’s attention, and not to have any destructive effect.
Since I’m sure Putin’s minions at least noticed Facebook’s action, it probably did its job of getting their attention. Any actual deterrence, however, is going to depend on who does what next. As with the equivalent conflict of the last Century, expect to see a long slog before anybody cries “Uncle.”
As cybersecurity expert Theresa Payton of Fortalice Solutions says: “Facebook has effectively taken a proactive approach to this issue rather than waiting for Congressional oversight to force their hand. If other platforms and regulators do not take action soon, it will become too late to stop Russian interference.”
We want to commend Facebook for standing up to be counted when it’s needed. We want to encourage them and others in both the public and private sectors to expand their efforts to bolster our cyberdefenses.
We’ve got a World War to fight!
The outlook is not all bad. Looking at the list of our enemies, and comparing them to who we expect to be our friends in this conflict, it is clear that our team has the upper hand with regard to both economic and technological resources.
At least as far as the World War III game is concerned, we’re going to need, for the third time, to put the lie to Leo Durocher’s misquote: “Nice guys finish last.”
In this Third World War game, we hope that we’re the nice guys, but our team has still got to win!