Krypt3ia

(Greek: κρυπτεία / krupteía, from κρυπτός / kruptós, “hidden, secret things”)

Russian Active Measures: Propaganda, Targeted Ad’s, and The Mob

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Handbook of Russian Information Warfare 2016

 

With all the talking heads on CNN expounding on the ad buy’s in Rubles and the oblique presentments by the senators yesterday on the Russia collusion investigation on C-Span, I felt the needs to drop some knowledge. All of these measures are not new but it seems like the general populace, the government, and the media all cannot comprehend that fact. Propaganda has been around since the dawn of civitas and today it is just more able to be used more nimbly in our hyper-connected society. With the advent of social media, the use of propaganda has been been turned into a more precision tool using demographics, analytics, and a medium that engenders itself as a new asymmetric warfare tool and this should be no surprise to anyone.

Propaganda has long been a tool for the radio, print, and television media to be paid and or tricked into releasing content that serves one of the political masters out there. However, the new wrinkle is the heuristics of computing and social dynamics data thereof of all the data points that we now collect on everyone who is using the internet or sites like Facebook, Google, or Twitter. So much information is collected today that it is possible to accurately determine how a person thinks and acts given their preferences and their secret activities that are seen by the algorithms inside these systems. Unless someone today takes greater pains to obfuscate their activities, companies, and governments can easily mine that data for ammunition to create such things as the black propaganda we saw used in the 2016 election cycle here. Since people really don’t pay attention to the other countries out there, they too would have seen the same measures used in places like Ukraine if they had been paying attention.

Previously I had posted about such measures in Ukraine that included the whole cloth creation of a media company to manipulate the populace there with propaganda as well as the use of malware to spy on the populace. Today I am covering the precepts of the use of our own systems of social media as well as our collective group psychologies to sow chaos. Given the outcomes in the 2016 elections and the continued attacks on our psyche’s by Russia post election we now have a pretty good idea of how the dynamic works. One must though take into account that human nature plays the largest roll in this type of warfare for it is the base of the equation that the Russians are trying to manipulate. The targeting of ads to key states and cities was just a targeting mechanism to the overall more targeted PSYOPS operation that was at play. The Russians parlayed the divisions within the US by creating echoes within already nascent echo chambers for those who are of like minds on social media systems. Once the psychology was worked out it was just a matter of locating those pockets of people and then creating the media (e.g. fake news) to feed into those systems and agitate those people into a frenzy.

Once again, human nature was keenly leveraged to sow chaos as well as being a vehicle for those noise to signal messages (dog whistles) for the believers and I can appreciate that. Frankly I am in awe of the techniques used while at the same time I am concerned that there are no real ways to mitigate these kinds of attacks due to that said same human nature. We all have our bias’ and we all ascribe to our own echo chambers whether we do so consciously or not. Social media in itself is the perfect medium for this and we just fall into place as the lizard brain takes over. So when people today ask the questions around how to combat this type of thing I often say that there is no real way to stop it. We can of course use people to look at ads like Facebook is doing now, having hired or in the process of hiring thousands to do so. Or we could just look at the ad buys and insure that they are not being paid for in Rubles… But these means are clunky and the adversary has many other options so in the end it will not work.

The ongoing Senate investigation into collusion and the Russian active measures campaign in 2016 has many people also asking specifically about the targeting data. Did the targeting data come from the Trump organization? Well, yeah, it may well have come from them or it could have just been collated from online searches and a working knowledge of the electoral system. You see, this attack was simple enough to calculate if you wanted to attempt to win the electoral college. One can Google the states that are key to winning the electoral vote but it is the fact that it seems the targeting went down to actual names and addresses that matters. I for one would be asking Cambridge Analytica about that data and how it may have come into the possession of the Russians. Now it is possible that the Russians had their own parallel program for this, or it is also possible they hacked into Analytica for it, and as far as I am aware of no one has asked for a forensic analysis of CA’s security there. Of course the data could have been handed off by someone like Paul Manafort as a quid pro quo (black caviar) right? Or perhaps it was Jared as a means of paying off his Russian friends in hopes of a loan to cover his bad real estate debts? I also think that it is possible that the rolls hacking that happened in the same time frame could also be the answer to this. It is possible that all those rolls were copied, sifted, and used for targeting of propaganda at the final stage of the race to the White House.

At the end of the day though, the problems of social media, cognitive biases within the populace and the mob mentality that humans tend to fall into (Republican/Democrat/TeaParty) will not be going away. We are creatures of habit and limited by our own brain biology. Do not expect that knowing that there is a propaganda campaign will stop those willing to receive it from buying into it whole heartedly. Social media isn’t going away anytime soon and the idea of algorithms being the key to stopping this is a falsehood. It all really just matters how you consume this media and how you react to it. If you fall into the echo chamber of cognitive bias or bent, then you will likely become a part of that machine and not be able to separate the truths from the bias truths that you personally ascribe to. So when you all ask how this happened remember that we are the culprits, the people.

K.

Written by Krypt3ia

2017/10/05 at 14:51

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