We hear more and more news about cyber espionage activities initiated by nation-states, but this does not necessarily mean that these cyber attacks, hacking attacks, and false propaganda activities will occur more frequently. Cyber operations initiated by criminals, nation states, and curious amateurs have always been the norm, and they are increasingly reported, censored, and weaponized. In addition, reports often place cyber espionage, hackers, data breaches, and influence activities under the umbrella of “cyber attacks,” which makes it feel that individuals, communities, and countries have been attacked by hostile external forces.
By clarifying the difference between cyber intelligence operations and hacking, we can better understand the motives of espionage and U.S. adversaries:
- Espionage is the intelligence obtained from intrusive operations sponsored and executed by the national intelligence agency with technical support. This does not necessarily mean that a country has been attacked. All countries seek to gain insights into the leadership, military, economic, and political plans and intentions of their opponents, and use espionage to gain these insights.
- Hacking is a bit subtle. A hacker attack can be an unauthorized access to another person or entity’s technical equipment, system, or software with the intent to cause harm. Hacking can also be part of an intelligence operation, the purpose of which is to release embarrassing information about the political elite of a hostile country in order to destabilize the opponent while demonstrating one’s own virtues.
This juxtaposition is useful in authoritarian countries where political and economic stability is more fragile. Understanding the purpose of a hacking attack (compared to what it did) can help distinguish whether it is an act of war, a criminal act, hacking and dumping aimed at embarrassing people, or an attempt to infiltrate a group to spread dissent.
But why is this important to ordinary people, and what role do citizens play?
Raise awareness of the motivations of the nation state
It’s hard for Americans to imagine that nation-states just want to “watch America burn”, but our opponents Yes That cynic. This also provides cover for them. In addition to obtaining political intelligence and stealing intellectual property rights, many cyber espionage activities focus on political interference and creating chaos. These movements created a sense of “look at what happened to these Americans,” aiming to build an internal power base through propaganda to show the wrong view of democratic instability.
A good example of this positioning is Vladimir Putin’s interview with Megyn Kelly in March 2018, which demonstrates the vast amount of knowledge our opponent possesses. Putin seized the opportunity to convey strength to Russia at the expense of a smart and well-prepared senior reporter. Message delivery is very important, period. Putin also wants to send a message to the United States that it is time to stop tit-for-tat interference in each other’s internal politics (from a Russian perspective). This is a master’s program in Russian messaging.
Another platform for American opponents is social media, which has become a very divisive place. I think that many of the political content shared on the Internet-you know, those completely weird posts you either can’t believe it or look so crazy that you think they may be true-originated from the mistakes of the nation state Information and false propaganda activities.
Misinformation is objective false information inadvertently spread by unknowing entities. False information is the deliberate dissemination of inaccurate or false information with the purpose of dividing, propagating and deceiving the public. From an intelligence point of view, this tool is used to interfere with the politics of another country. One example is the 2016 presidential election, where nation-states tried to strangle various ideological camps. Or in 2020, the nation-state will refute the “true” origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving people confused, scared, angry, and constantly questioning.
The role of individuals in combating false and misinformation
Our opponent’s motives include creating distrust and spreading dissent. So how can individuals avoid unknowingly becoming victims of misinformation that supports our opponent’s goals? One way is to know that if you are reading extremely exaggerated content, it is likely to be wrong. Take a breath; pause before you believe it, take a moment to digest the information, don’t just click and share it. Algorithms understand us and our habits, and opponents are monitoring this. Make sure you are researching to find verified news sources to confirm any stories you read online.
People should understand what they know, who they know, and what they can reach. They may not feel that they will add value to the misinformation campaign of the nation-state, but everything that people do is important. Even ordinary people have more opportunities, insights, and connections than they realize.
No one should be complacent about thinking that they are restricted areas. We are all targets of adversaries and threat actors, who are extremely proficient in understanding American culture. They don’t trust our society, they think we are doing the same thing to them. It’s time to rethink the rules of the game that our opponents are playing, because they are not even on the same playing field as us.
Adam Darrah is an experienced intelligence analyst who specializes in placing international affairs in a cultural and political context. Adam spent eight years working for the U.S. government, coordinating multiple federal agencies to fill in key knowledge gaps about the country…View complete bio