Essays in the Category “Internet and Society”
With election meddling inevitable in 2020, the United States needs a powerful kill chain.
Influence operations are elusive to define. The Rand Corp.’s definition is as good as any: “the collection of tactical information about an adversary as well as the dissemination of propaganda in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent.” Basically, we know it when we see it, from bots controlled by the Russian Internet Research Agency to Saudi attempts to plant fake stories and manipulate political debate. These operations have been run by Iran against the United States, Russia against Ukraine, China against Taiwan, and probably lots more besides.
Since the 2016 U.S.
We’ll have to battle both the disease and the fake news.
When the next pandemic strikes, we'll be fighting it on two fronts. The first is the one you immediately think about: understanding the disease, researching a cure and inoculating the population. The second is new, and one you might not have thought much about: fighting the deluge of rumors, misinformation and flat-out lies that will appear on the internet.
The second battle will be like the Russian disinformation campaigns during the 2016 presidential election, only with the addition of a deadly health crisis and possibly without a malicious government actor.
The Internet was going to set us all free. At least, that is what U.S. policy makers, pundits, and scholars believed in the 2000s. The Internet would undermine authoritarian rulers by reducing the government’s stranglehold on debate, helping oppressed people realize how much they all hated their government, and simply making it easier and cheaper to organize protests.
Cyberattacks don't magically happen; they involve a series of steps. And far from being helpless, defenders can disrupt the attack at any of those steps. This framing has led to something called the "cybersecurity kill chain": a way of thinking about cyber defense in terms of disrupting the attacker's process.
On a similar note, it's time to conceptualize the "information operations kill chain." Information attacks against democracies, whether they're attempts to polarize political processes or to increase mistrust in social institutions, also involve a series of steps.
To better understand influence attacks, we proposed an approach that models democracy itself as an information system and explains how democracies are vulnerable to certain forms of information attacks that autocracies naturally resist. Our model combines ideas from both international security and computer security, avoiding the limitations of both in explaining how influence attacks may damage democracy as a whole.
Our initial account is necessarily limited. Building a truly comprehensive understanding of democracy as an information system will be a Herculean labor, involving the collective endeavors of political scientists and theorists, computer scientists, scholars of complexity, and others.
On November 4, 2016, the hacker "Guccifer 2.0," a front for Russia's military intelligence service, claimed in a blogpost that the Democrats were likely to use vulnerabilities to hack the presidential elections. On November 9, 2018, President Donald Trump started tweeting about the senatorial elections in Florida and Arizona. Without any evidence whatsoever, he said that Democrats were trying to steal the election through "FRAUD."
Cybersecurity experts would say that posts like Guccifer 2.0's are intended to undermine public confidence in voting: a cyber-attack against the US democratic system. Yet Donald Trump's actions are doing far more damage to democracy.
Democracy is an information system.
That's the starting place of our new paper: "Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy." In it, we look at democracy through the lens of information security, trying to understand the current waves of Internet disinformation attacks. Specifically, we wanted to explain why the same disinformation campaigns that act as a stabilizing influence in Russia are destabilizing in the United States.
The answer revolves around the different ways autocracies and democracies work as information systems.
Internet censors have a new strategy in their bid to block applications and websites: pressuring the large cloud providers that host them. These providers have concerns that are much broader than the targets of censorship efforts, so they have the choice of either standing up to the censors or capitulating in order to maximize their business. Today's internet largely reflects the dominance of a handful of companies behind the cloud services, search engines and mobile platforms that underpin the technology landscape. This new centralization radically tips the balance between those who want to censor parts of the internet and those trying to evade censorship.
The new book from Zeynep Tufekci looks at how the web has helped demonstrations take off around the globe, but also made them harder to sustain.
There are two opposing models of how the internet has changed protest movements. The first is that the internet has made protesters mightier than ever. This comes from the successful revolutions in Tunisia (2010-11), Egypt (2011), and Ukraine (2013). The second is that it has made them more ineffectual.
Technological advances change the world. That's partly because of what they are, but even more because of the social changes they enable. New technologies upend power balances. They give groups new capabilities, increased effectiveness, and new defenses.
Advertising in the 2016 election is going to be highly personalized, targeting voters’ personal information to sway their decisions
This presidential election, prepare to be manipulated.
In politics, as in the marketplace, you are the consumer. But you only have one vote to "spend" per election, and in November you'll almost always only have two possible candidates on which to spend it.
In every election, both of those candidates are going to pull every trick in the surveillance-driven, highly personalized internet advertising world to get you to vote for them.
The Internet of Things is the name given to the computerization of everything in our lives. Already you can buy Internet-enabled thermostats, light bulbs, refrigerators, and cars. Soon everything will be on the Internet: the things we own, the things we interact with in public, autonomous things that interact with each other.
These "things" will have two separate parts.
This essay is part of a conversation with Gloria Origgi entitled "What is Reputation?" Other participants were Abbas Raza, William Poundstone, Hugo Mercier, Quentin Hardy, Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield, Bruce Schneier, and Kai Krause.
Reputation is a social mechanism by which we come to trust one another, in all aspects of our society. I see it as a security mechanism. The promise and threat of a change in reputation entices us all to be trustworthy, which in turn enables others to trust us. In a very real sense, reputation enables friendships, commerce, and everything else we do in society.
Last week, CIA director John O. Brennan became the latest victim of what's become a popular way to embarrass and harass people on the internet. A hacker allegedly broke into his AOL account and published emails and documents found inside, many of them personal and sensitive.
It's called doxing—sometimes doxxing—from the word "documents." It emerged in the 1990s as a hacker revenge tactic, and has since been as a tool to harass and intimidate people, primarily women, on the internet. Someone would threaten a woman with physical harm, or try to incite others to harm her, and publish her personal information as a way of saying "I know a lot about you—like where you live and work." Victims of doxing talk about the fear that this tactic instills.
The doxing of Ashley Madison reveals an uncomfortable truth: In the age of cloud computing, everyone is vulnerable.
Most of us get to be thoroughly relieved that our emails weren't in the Ashley Madison database. But don't get too comfortable. Whatever secrets you have, even the ones you don't think of as secret, are more likely than you think to get dumped on the Internet. It's not your fault, and there's largely nothing you can do about it.
Those of you unfamiliar with hacker culture might need an explanation of “doxing.”
The word refers to the practice of publishing personal information about people without their consent. Usually it’s things like an address and phone number, but it can also be credit card details, medical information, private e-mails—pretty much anything an assailant can get his hands on.
Doxing is not new; the term dates back to 2001 and the hacker group Anonymous. But it can be incredibly offensive. In 2014, several women were doxed by male gamers trying to intimidate them into keeping silent about sexism in computer games.
German translation by Yuri Samoilov
There's a new international survey on Internet security and trust, of '23,376 Internet users in 24 countries,' including 'Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.' Amongst the findings, 60% of Internet users have heard of Edward Snowden, and 39% of those 'have taken steps to protect their online privacy and security as a result of his revelations.'
The press is mostly spinning this as evidence that Snowden has not had an effect: 'merely 39%,' 'only 39%,' and so on. (Note that these articles are completely misunderstanding the data. It's not 39% of people who are taking steps to protect their privacy post-Snowden, it's 39% of the 60% of Internet users—which is not everybody—who have heard of him. So it's much less than 39%.)
Even so, I disagree with the 'Edward Snowden Revelations Not Having Much Impact on Internet Users' headline.
Distributed citizen groups and nimble hackers once had the edge. Now governments and corporations are catching up. Who will dominate in the decades ahead?
We're in the middle of an epic battle for power in cyberspace. On one side are the traditional, organized, institutional powers such as governments and large multinational corporations. On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals. Initially, the Internet empowered the second side.
Recently, Elon Musk and The New York Times took to Twitter and the internet to argue the data -- and their grievances -- over a failed road test and car review. Meanwhile, an Applebee's server is part of a Change.org petition to get her job back after posting a pastor's no-tip receipt comment online. And when he wasn't paid quickly enough, a local Fitness SF web developer rewrote the company's webpage to air his complaint.
All of these 'cases' are seeking their judgments in the court of public opinion.
This essay appeared as a response to Edge's annual question, "What *Should* We Be Worried About?"
All disruptive technologies upset traditional power balances, and the Internet is no exception. The standard story is that it empowers the powerless, but that's only half the story. The Internet empowers everyone. Powerful institutions might be slow to make use of that new power, but since they are powerful, they can use it more effectively.
Society runs on trust. Over the millennia, we've developed a variety of mechanisms to induce trustworthy behavior in society. These range from a sense of guilt when we cheat, to societal disapproval when we lie, to laws that arrest fraudsters, to door locks and burglar alarms that keep thieves out of our homes. They're complicated and interrelated, but they tend to keep society humming along.
Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone.
Those of us living through the Internet-caused revolution in journalism can't see what's going to come out the other side: how readers will interact with journalism, what the sources of journalism will be, how journalists will make money. All we do know is that mass-market journalism is hurting, badly, and may not survive. And that we have no idea how to thrive in this new world of digital media.
I have five pieces of advice to those trying to survive and wanting to thrive: based both on experiences as a successful Internet pundit and blogger, and my observations of others, successful and unsuccessful.
This essay appeared as the first half of a point-counterpoint with Marcus Ranum.
Are employees blogging corporate secrets? It's not an unreasonable fear, actually. People have always talked about work to their friends. It's human nature for people to talk about what's going on in their lives, and work is a lot of most people's lives.
Book Review of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
In 1937, Ronald Coase answered one of the most perplexing questions in economics: if markets are so great, why do organizations exist? Why don't people just buy and sell their own services in a market instead? Coase, who won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Economics, answered the question by noting a market's transaction costs: buyers and sellers need to find one another, then reach agreement, and so on. The Coase theorem implies that if these transaction costs are low enough, direct markets of individuals make a whole lot of sense.
Wine Therapy is a web bulletin board for serious wine geeks. It's been active since 2000, and its database of back posts and comments is a wealth of information: tasting notes, restaurant recommendations, stories and so on. Late last year someone hacked the board software, got administrative privileges and deleted the database. There was no backup.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.