Krypt3ia

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

Archive for the ‘INFLUENCE OPERATIONS’ Category

SOFWERX Presentation: Your Algorithms Won’t Save You: Why We Need More Sociology and Psychology in The Fight Against Online Disinformation & Propaganda

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Here is the deck from yesterday’s presentation at the SOFWERX Radial Speakers Series on Information Warfare:

 

Your Algorithms Won’t Save You

Video will be available from SOFWERX

 

Written by Krypt3ia

2018/12/05 at 12:56

Maria Butina: The Knockoff Anna Chapman

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AGENT OF INFLUENCE:

The arrest of Maria Butina, the poor man’s Anna Chapman has opened a whole new avenue of investigation by the amateur spy hunters as well as the professionals this week. As it turns out, Maria had been under surveillance for a while and a known quantity to the FBI/DOJ as well for some time. Butina was even in the news cycles back in 2016 attached in stories to Alexander Torshin, a Russian Oligarch cum Bratva/Mobster with ties to the FSB and to Putin. This however did not make her a household name and in effect many people in the media were caught off guard I think when the feds arrested her and presented the affidavit in court on her FARA violations and flight risk potential.

Butina had been a fixture in 2015-2016 with the NRA circles and in fact it seems that she and Torshin had been a part of a plot to funnel money to the NRA as well as attempt to garner access to the Trump campaign/admin as well as others in the Republican party vis a vis entree from the NRA itself and a certain person 1, in the affidavit. Person one turns out to be Paul Erickson, an alleged master of the political universe in his own mind. He and Butina had been living together and it has become clear that it was a task that Butina felt she had to carry out to complete her mission per conversations the feds have picked up during their surveillance of her.

It seems that Butina, and Torshin with the help of Erickson and one other person yet unnamed, were able to potentially funnel money through the NRA to the Trump campaign and to the tune of 30 million dollars. With this access and her machinations to meet and greet as many players as possible (a list was provided by Erickson it seems to hit up with his direction) they would also have access and influence over CPAC, the conservative political action group as well. With this kind of access it seems that perhaps, with more information to come to confirm this, Russia had an access and influence campaign that changed the Republican platforms stance on Russia to be more along the lines of what Trump is evincing today.

Poor Man’s Anna Chapman:

After all the information started coming out post the affidavit’s publication online it then became an interesting rabbit hole to go down and see just how this operation was carried out and with what skill. After looking at things myself I am going to say here that I do not believe this was a well thought out operation that was being run by the likes of the SVR nor the FSB. I think that this was a condoned and “let’s see what happens” kind of operation that was a sideshow to the main events of the influence operations by the GRU and SVR that we are all dealing with today. I say this for a few reasons;

1) Torshin is connected to the FSB but he is not FSB: He in fact likely is an asset of the FSB much like some mobsters have been to the CIA in the past.

2) Torshin and Butina’s utter lack of OPSEC leaves me to believe that this was not a managed operation by the FSB/SVR/GRU because plainly it was so inept

3) Butina seems to be a clean skin (i.e. no history as an operative) but does have a backstop story of being a Russian business owner. She isn’t really a classic kind of “illegal” because she did not have a cover identity and paperwork like the illegals busted back in 2010 who were actually trained in tradecraft and sent here undercover.

In fact the absolutely poor OPSEC with which these two carried out communications online and off is a sign to me that there were no official handlers to the operation. If there were then they were negligent to the point of idiocy. There is even an amusing exchange between Butina and Torshin about being on a phone call and it being insecure where Butina recommends using WhatsApp but it is not clear if Torshin could handle using it and that they went silent so to speak. It seems overall that they did not and the feds have quite a bit of material on them both.

Add to this the fact that they carried a lot of these conversations in email and on facebook and Twitter and you can see a clear pattern of lack of tradecraft as opposed to what we have all seen come out of the indictments recently of the GRU operation against the DCCC and DNC as well as the disinformation operations. So once again I am gonna call it as amateur hour with a side of Anna Chapman Sparrow wannabe syndrome. This can also be reinforced with Torshin’s comments on how Butina is like and or had surpassed Anna in her operations.

A Noisy Operation:

What Maria Butina lacked in tradecraft, she easily made up for in ability to entice 54 year olds like Erickson with sex and access though. It seems that she played on this quite a bit and thought of herself as the next Anna super spy given all these photos she had taken by Oleg Volk, a photographer with a gun fetish in Tennessee. Her portfolio there is all guns all the time and since she was playing the part of a Russian NRA right to bear arms supporter it all fit the greater theme. However, even with her sex appeal and her playfulness, she managed to not be overly subtle either and her connections to Torshin were pretty clear. The media and certain people in the government noticed and asked for her to be investigated as well as her connections to the NRA.

As you can see from the text here she was a known quantity but all of these people around her did nothing to report her. They all just went along with the money and the possible access to her and Russia via Torshin. It really amazes me how people can just eschew all ethics and morals when large sums of money are being handed to them in order to further their own cause. As for the Republicans and the access there, like I said above I believe there is much more yet to come on her connections to individuals and the movements of money from them to NRA to Trump. I look forward to more of this coming out and in fact a little teaser yesterday was that a new player showed up at court for Butina’s hearing on being a flight risk.

That new player is a prosecutor who’s specialty is with trials concerning espionage. It turns out that though she has been arrested on FARA issues, she may in fact be later charged with espionage given that this prosecutor has shown up. It is also interesting that during the hearing there were two guys from the Russian consulate there and the reason that Butina was remanded without bail was the concern that she had packed all her things, moved money overseas, and that the consulate folks looked like they were planning an exfil if she was let go.

Giggity.

Players Yet To Be Named:

I also have to wonder who Person 2 is as well as others out there who had connections and or friendships with Butina. They all must be shitting bricks right about now I would think. One of those people mentioned in the articles I got in my OSINT searches was Cleta Mitchell. I looked her up and wouldn’t you know it, she is involved on the International Foundation for Electoral Systems board as well as seems to have raised the alarm about Russia, the NRA, and money and access being funneled from it to Trump.

I guess she saw it all up close and personal…

I wonder when we will have some more names added to the list and perhaps some indictments or at the least subpoena’s served on this matter. Overall though, this case could be a lynch pin for the Mueller investigation in a couple of ways. Certainly there is the money angle, and Mueller is following the money most certainly. The players here could end up helping the investigation for immunity as well. However, the big thing for me is that in this net of collusion and money, we may see even more republicans touched by this case. It seems pretty clear that the Republicans changed their attitudes toward Russia after the money spigot opened and perhaps this NRA money funnel and perhaps to CPAC will crack open and give us some answers on why people like Nunes and Gowdy for instance, are so available to subverting the constitution in favor of Trump and Russia.

Perhaps they are trying to hide their guilt because, gee, there’s kompromat on them as well.

Maybe some pics of Butina, guns, and naked senators somewhere…

K.

Written by Krypt3ia

2018/07/19 at 19:06

Scenarios on Outcomes from Russian Information Operations on the US 2016 Election

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Assessment Goals:

With all that has been happening with the disinformation and influence operations during this election cycle I thought it prudent to thought experiment out some scenarios if Russia or any other adversary with the means, decided to attack the election cycle in other ways. One might ask right now what benefit would other countries like Russia gain from such operations and you would be right to ask. That is a question for another post but suffice to say that if Russia is indeed tampering with our electoral process like they have in others, then the reasons are geopolitical and very much Putin’s aegis in ordering the SVR and KGB to carry them out.

The goal here is to just lay out the attacks that could happen simply and then give you the likely outcomes. All of these are not as comprehensive as you might find in some think tanks like Wikistrat but you get the idea. All of these attacks are possible, and they do not have to all work completely to have secondary and tertiary effects on the US population and political system. Please read through them and ponder yourselves how would you react if these happened? How would the general populace? Would government be able to carry on? If the election cycle is broken and the systems not trusted, how would one re-set the vote and how long would it take?

Interesting times….

SCENARIO 1: VOTE TAMPERING

The voting machine have been tampered with electronically or code has been inserted. The potential for votes being tabulated incorrectly or data tampered with is possible but not probable in the grander scheme in the US according to sources. However, this does not preclude a way found to insert such code or physical devices in key states. It is also not impossible to have assets in play such as sympathizers or outright KGB assets on the ground helping to tamper with the results. I will not go into the details because this is a scenario to start but it is also not the point. Let’s just assume ways have been found to tamper enough to call the electoral data into question via tampering directly with the systems.

POTENTIAL OUTCOME:

  • Trust in the election system is diminished
  • Recalls are called for by both candidates and the public
  • The electronic systems will lose public trust and a re-assessment of the process will be mandated

SCENARIO 2: VOTER ROLLS TAMPERING

Scenario 2 is based on recent events. The hacking of the rolls databases in key states could be an attempt to manipulate the data and cause secondary issues with that data on the day of the election. The posit is that the adversary has tampered with people’s voting preferences data. If you are a republican they can change that roll to the opposite party and vice versa. Additionally what if a users region or address were changed surreptitiously? To date there are no systems that I am aware of that will email you when a change is made to your voting status and how many people check before they go to the polls? This is a common tactic that has been used in gerrymandering an election area by disallowing voters from voting on the day of the election. To date, the FBI has not been able to determine what the hacking on the voter databases was about and this could be one of the goals.

POTENTIAL OUTCOME:

  • Voters are unable to vote once they get to the polling place.
  • Voters are not allowed to correct these records and are thusly negated from the process
  • Attack key states once again, going for the electoral college and you can change the outcome of an election
  • All of the above once again have the amplification of causing distrust of the system and damage to the election
  • The candidates and the people are left with a recall and with the system being manipulated already how can they trust it?

SCENARIO 3: DISRUPTION OF THE PROCESS ELECTRONICALLY

Russia has attacked the Ukraine elections by inserting malware/code into the election machines in 2014 that effectively bricked them. If such an attack code were placed and propagated within the American voting systems the disruption would cause the election to be halted and emergency measures taken. Perhaps the election might try to carry on with paper ballots but I am unsure the process can be that effectively nimble. If the election systems are down, since they are of varying makes and models of machines, the time to return of service would be long, causing more FUD to the elections process itself.

POTENTIAL OUTCOME:

  • Voters are unable to vote or the process takes so long that they walk away with a more analog process
  • Trust in the electronic system would be degraded or destroyed
  • The election cycle would be likely broken and emergency measures would have to be employed (contingencies)
  • Continuity of government is challenged

CONCLUSIONS:

These three scenarios to date, have not been covered I believe. This post comes to you as the fruit of a discussion I had with @SteveD3 and I believe that in our current atmosphere of information warfare and influence operations carried out by Russia, one has to take these thought experiments out for a drive. All of these scenarios are possible and will have the effects of denial, disruption, and degradation to our election systems and the stability of the nation. It need not render the election completely in the favor of one or the other candidate conclusively to cause faith in the system and its outcome to be questioned. Imagine if you will, as Trump has already been saying repeatedly, that these tactics are used and the general populace believes that the election has been rigged? With or without the hand of the Russians, others could be easily blamed by a candidate like Trump and his followers. The outcomes from this could lead to civil unrest and other worse things if they came to pass with the help of information operations attacks by another nation state.

I suggest you red team these ideas yourselves and see what else you can come up with…

Written by Krypt3ia

2016/10/11 at 14:20

ASSESSMENT: The ZunZuneo “Hummingbird” Social Network and The Cuban Spring

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Zunzuneo

 

Cuban Intranet and Internet Access:

Cuban internet access is minimal and very controlled the the government. There were as of 2011 about 124K addresses listed to the .cu domain on the internet belonging to Cuba and the average ownership of a computer was low. The same was true over cell phone ownership and use compared to other Caribbean countries. The regime’s control over all of the infrastructure pervades to the intranet being primarily a tool for propaganda and a means of control via surveillance on those who could access it.

Screenshot from 2014-04-06 07:13:01

Internet access though became a feature to the rich in the country or the political (both are the same in reality) and one could buy access to the internet for a hefty price underground. In fact some blogs have shown up over the years on the proper internet after dissidents paid for or obtained access either themselves or by exfiltrating data to outside sympathizers for publication on blogs like WordPress or LiveJournal. Generally, if you wanted a source of outside news you had to either buy access to the internet in the black market, get it on the streets from people with SW radios, or by some other means. This control over the media and technology has perpetuated the control of the Castro regime and allowed his dictatorship to continue.

CUBA CYBER

Cuban Telco:

Cubacel also is a single proprietorship of all cell phone communication (state run) on the island and in fact the ownership of cell phones is one of the lowest as well in the world for penetration of cell phone owners and use. This too means that the Castro government has greater control over what the people can access as well as a single point of surveillance that can be used as a mans of control as well. Of course today this is all being said in the age of the NSA tapping just about everything so please take this with a grain of salt and the knowledge of how that makes you feel about surveillance by any government.

Screenshot from 2014-04-06 07:24:17

I am unsure of the prevalence of cell phones today in Cuba but I am guessing that these statistics are only a little different today due to the controls that the Castro government has in place over it’s populace as well as the poverty rate of the island itself disallowing general ownership and use. While the numbers may have grown so too might the attitude of the government due to a shift in power from Fidel to Raoul Castro. While the former was a bit more hard line the latter seems to be a little more open to allowing the country to loosen it’s grip on the people and allow communications with the US. This may also play a part in easing the minds of the people into thinking they could in fact use cell phones and platforms like ZunZuneo to air grievances.

ZunZuneo:

The ZunZuneo platform went live in 2010 and was a “Cuban Twitter” which was text based on the cellular network on the island. It was in fact a program put in place by USAID (likely a covert program run by CIA in reality) and ran until about 2012 and at it’s end it had about 40 thousand users on the island. The broad idea of the project was to have the Cuban’s generate their own “buzz” around dissident ideas and allow them a means to text one another outside the controls (ostensibly) of the Castro governments eyes and ears. This though likely was not a complete success nor was the program a success from the standpoint of mass demonstrations happening either as far as can be seen by any news sources reporting on this.

ZunZuneo was inserted and run by contractors and purported to be a Cuban creation with cleverly hidden funds and controls from USAID/CIA. The program’s aegis was to insert itself, gain a user base, and then to start to send texts to the users to spur political unrest against Raoul and Fidel Castro’s government. In the end the program came to a sudden halt due to finance issues (alleged) but the reality is it never actually got the directive to insert itself as an influence operation. It operated unbeknownst to the users and in reality was a failure because I think USAID and CIA had hoped they would see dissent traffic on it’s own. It did not and thus perhaps the idea was seen as not feasible and the finances were withdrawn.

YOUTUBE

Influence Operations:

 

Screenshot from 2014-04-06 07:36:44

 

Influence Operations are nothing new and over the years many have been carried out on places like Cuba. With the advent of new technologies like the internet this has become even easier to carry out on average when the populace has easy and free access to the net. in the case of Cuba this is not so much the case like the DPRK. I would say though that Cuba has a much more permeable information border than the DPRK due to it’s geographical location as well as the current regime’s leanings towards opening up a bit more. Though it is still the case that the current government still holds all the keys to information flow as well as a secret police force that controls the populace who get out of line. So it is no paradise of freedom and beauty.

That the US decided to use USAID to carry out this operation is an interesting choice but in their charter is the mandate to “spread democracy” so while some might question the aegis here and say that this was a rogue operation I don’t necessarily agree with that. One must understand that at least USAID has access to many places under its mission in general of providing humanitarian aid so there is purview there. The question though becomes do we want to taint such an org in the future and deny access to critical areas where people really do need help? This will be the fallout from this in general globally and likely will hurt people in the end. As influence operations go though this was a bit of a flop in the short term however. In the long term though perhaps this may lead an internal company or group to create a new ZunZuneo because the 40 thousand people using it really enjoyed it. If someone were to create a new one and if the populace felt that they could in fact speak their minds freely, then maybe they would rise up.

ANALYSIS:

My analysis of the ZunZuneo operation is that it was a novel idea but lacked oversight. An influence operation that inserted itself as a platform for communication in a place where cell phones and internet access is tightly controlled was a gambit that was bound to fail in my opinion. This was in fact the digital equivalent of releasing balloons with propaganda over the DPRK (which is ongoing today) and does not have a penetration level at which a real traction could occur. It is my belief that the CIA/USAID thought that what they had seen with popular uprisings like the Arab Spring could be effected in Cuba internally by it’s populace. What they failed to comprehend was the amount of outside help the Arab Spring had from the likes of Anonymous and the general internet to assist them in carrying it out. In the case of the Arab Spring and other incidents the governments attempted to clamp down on communications that they controlled only to be denied absolute control by key players outside allowing access through POTS and other means.

In the ZunZuneo scenario two things did not happen to cause it’s failure at the end. One was that the populace who had access perhaps did not feel they could speak their minds because everything was on Cubacel to start with. The second was the fact that this program was not a populist movement from the start. You will note that the other “spring” incidents had access to the internet proper not only on twitter but also by other means. These countries already had a populace who had access to external information and were consuming it regularly. The same cannot be said about Cuba in general as I have described it above. The traction just wasn’t there because the people know already that the vehicle that the information operation was to use was already monitored by the government that is oppressing them.

At the end of the day though I have been seeing an easing in the Castro regime since Raoul took over from Fidel and this would I hope, continue as the two of them age into retirement (aka their graves) and the people might have a chance at that point to make a change. Time will tell just how much more Raoul opens things up post this little debacle. However flights in and out of Cuba are more plentiful and there is a flow of monies etc that could be much more beneficial in the long run than any influence operation ever could. My fear though is that the old guard Cubano’s in Florida may have had a hand in this as well and there may be more out there in the wings. It could upend the growth that has happened and that would be a shame.

K.

Written by Krypt3ia

2014/04/06 at 12:22