How Russia is fighting with America in social networks

On March 2, the American intelligence received a report, the contents of which can not disturb. Spy hunters to one month find out the details about the Russian operation to influence the presidential elections in 2016. In the offices in Washington and Virginia was drawn by a sophisticated scheme, in which analysts noted the identified participants in multi-level Russian plans. However, the information from the March report indicated a new aspect of the story.

The report describes the next step taken by Russia after break-ins the correspondence of politicians, which it had implemented in 2016. Now the Russian deal with more sophisticated break-ins via Twitter. According to the report, they sent out a masterfully compiled the communications with malware more than 10 thousands of users of Twitter in the Ministry of defense. Depending on the interests of the recipient, the messages contain links to articles about sports events or about held the previous weekend, the ceremony “Oscars”. After clicking the link users were on controlled Russian server from which you loaded the program that allowed hackers to take control of the phone or computer of the victim as well as her Twitter.

In the process of trying to correct caused the break-ins damage and to regain control of affected devices spy hunters realised that they faced the threat of a new type. In 2016, Russia has used thousands of secret agents and armies of computer “bots” to spread misinformation about the stolen correspondence of the electoral headquarters of Clinton. This allowed her to seriously inflate the scandal. Now counterintelligence thinking about what kind of chaos will be able to arrange Moscow, using thousands of Twitter, backed by the authority of the armed forces of the United States? At any time — say, during a natural disaster or a terrorist attack — Twitter, the Pentagon could begin to disseminate false information. If their reports confirmed one another, and Russian agents further reinforce the effect, the result could be panic and confusion.

For many Americans, a Russian hacking is the story of the history of elections in 2016. But now we are seeing a new trend. Combining your age-old experience in intelligence operations with the technologies of social networking, Russia may have achieved what unsuccessfully sought during the cold war. Now she can influence what is happening in the United States by manipulating public opinion. The openness and anonymity of social networks given into the hands of anti-democratic forces threat of new tool. “Using these technologies can undermine the authority of democratic governments — and with each passing day it is becoming easier,” — says Waltman Rand (Rand Waltzman) the Rand Corp., who led a large-scale program of the Pentagon to study the propaganda of the threat in social networks.

According to several former and current employees of the FBI, CIA and Congress, the Russian operation in 2016 was only the most visible element of the ongoing global information war against democracy. The last time this was talked about in the open. “The incident calls us to vigilance and requires us to confront the danger that threatens the very foundations of our democratic political system,” said the may 8 congressional hearings, the former Director of national intelligence James Clapper (James Clapper).

These terrible words help to understand the essence of the new information war. Your likes, tweets and repost the Americans are creating a vast array of data about what they think and how they respond to ideas and arguments. In fact, every second thousands of people have Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Google your Outlook. Digital recognition is collected and stored — and much of this information is available for a fee to anyone who has enough computer power to make use of.

Further, in the case involving algorithms. Researchers have discovered that they can use mathematical formulas to divide the population into thousands of subgroups in accordance with such defining characteristics as religion, political beliefs, taste in music or favorite TV program. Other algorithms allow us to determine the relevant groups for these problems and to identify the most suggestible. After that, the promoters be manually materials, allowing you to influence these people, and try to influence their behavior using the secret instigators or computer programs that are called bots.

As reported by TIME more than a dozen senior intelligence officers and researchers who have studied intelligence operations in Russia, does this now Moscow. Russian “watching you, monitoring your likes and clicks, see what you like and do not like,” explains a senior intelligence. Can they really influence the behavior of Americans, and if so how much — hard to say. However, while investigating the operation, conducted by Russia in 2016, the security services came to the conclusion that Moscow has managed to develop sophisticated tactics.

As told TIME a senior scout, last year, a Russian soldier stationed in Ukraine, has successfully infiltrated one of the us groups in social networks, pretending to be 42-year-old housewife from the US, and began to try to influence political disputes with the help of specially composed messages. In another case, according to our sources, Russia has created a fake account on “Facebook to feed those journalists that Russian thought influenced misinformation on issues such as the resettlement of refugees.

While Moscow expands its cyber-propaganda operations, United States and its allies are only beginning to think about how to answer that. The problem is that fear of Russian influence may even be vredonosnaya than the activity of Russia. Russian like when they are considered stronger than they are, and they will be happy if the Americans will cease to believe their news sources because of the fear of hiding in Facebook and Twitter agents of Moscow. In addition to detect these agents is very difficult. To identify the signs “allows one to understand that the particular account is by order of the state, is extremely difficult,” explains Jared Cohen (Jared Cohen), President of the Jigsaw, a subsidiary of Alphabet holding company, which includes Google, dealing with global security issues.

As often happens in spy novels, the United States learned that their democracy was threatened by hackers, due to leakage of information. In may 2016 an officer of the Russian military intelligence told a colleague that his organization, the GRU is prepared to pay Clinton for the undercover operation, which, in the opinion of President Putin, the former Secretary of state held against him five years ago. GRU is going to wreak havoc on the upcoming American election, he boasted.

However, as said TIME high-ranking intelligence sources, the officer did not know that this conversation is being bugged by American agents. They recorded and sent to the analysts in headquarters, and they turned raw intelligence in a formal report and shared it with colleagues. However, if we now boast an officer looks disturbing, while the American authorities did not know how it should be interpreted. “We were able to understand its context much later,” explains a senior intelligence official. Only now the investigators realized that boastful statement of a Russian officer was the first evidence that Russia is not just hacking into emails to get information, but going to interfere in the vote. Many in the American government couldn’t even imagine — like most Americans — what action Russia was preparing to the elections in 2016. And certainly, few could imagine that this operation was prepared for five years.

In 2011, more than 70 Russian cities protests erupted, threatening Putin’s control over the Kremlin. This protest wave was organized in social networks a popular blogger named Alexei Navalny, who used a blog, Twitter and Facebook to bring people to the streets. Putin’s power in this regard, I have developed my own technique of working with social networks. When bloggers tried to organize nationwide protests via Twitter using hashtag #Triumfalnaya, the Pro-Kremlin blogs overwhelmed him antiprotestnye messages and meaningless lyrics that prevented the opponents of Putin to coordinate.

Putin publicly accused Secretary Clinton that she has organized against his country a massive special operation. According to him, she gave the demonstrators “signal”, and the state Department actively fueled the protests. In response, the state Department announced that it has funded organizations that advocate for democracy. According to former officials and intelligence for such an operation — in Russia or anywhere else — the exploration would be required to get special funding from the President that Barack Obama was unlikely to select.

The following year Putin was re-elected for President and instructed his new chief of military intelligence Igor Sergun to reconfigure the weapon that was previously used for psychological operations in war zones, for use in the election. As a result, Russian intelligence agencies have begun to focus on psychological operations in cyberspace. They began to Finance a “Troll factory”, spam botnets, and websites of phony news.

Apparently, Putin received outside help. Returned to Moscow, bringing with them a variety of algorithms that can be used in special operations, one extremely talented Russian programmer for ten years collaborated in the U.S. with experts in social networks. As said TIME high-ranking intelligence sources, he was quickly hired by people working for the Russian secret services. “The engineer who created these algorithms, studied in the United States,” said one of our sources.

Soon Putin tested his new weapon on America. After April 2014, Russia began the invasion of Georgia, USA, introduced against Moscow sanctions blocking the export of technologies for oil extraction. It deprived Russian capabilities to develop available without us technology, the oil reserves at a cost of approximately 8.2 trillion dollars. Observing intelligence operations Moscow to the US, American counter-intelligence agents noticed that the Russian spies used their new tactics work in social media assistants to congressmen and senators. To find out who can support the Russian position, the agents of Moscow were placed in social networks of different materials, said TIME high-ranking U.S. intelligence officer. “The Russians come to grips with the administration of the Congress, he added. — They were interested in who is most vulnerable to manipulation and who will be positively related to what they planned to do.”

7 August 2016 the infamous head of a pharmaceutical company, Martin Shkreli (Martin Shkreli) has announced that Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s disease. This story spread across the network at the end of August and had an independent life, when Clinton became ill from pneumonia and dehydration, held in new York event to commemorate September 11. Then in the course went to the fiction that Pope Francis supported the candidacy of trump, and that Clinton killed a member of the National Committee of the Democratic party. Right before election day, word spread that Clinton and her assistants created in the basement of one of Washington pizzerias pedophile hangout.

Now the investigation of the Congress is figuring out how Russia helped such gossip to reach different audiences. Meanwhile, the intelligence service gathered information about Russia during the election season looking for influential sources that can be used to spread misinformation. According to counterintelligence, they have evidence that the Russians used their algorithmic techniques to influence particular journalists through their social media accounts. “They don’t have to aim for a magazine, newspaper, or TV show — says a senior official of the intelligence services. — Enough to understand what one or another journalist is even slightly inclined to believe such tales, and flood his” account of the flood of false news.

Russia is active across all social networks. The investigators found that agents of Moscow have bought advertising on Facebook to address the propaganda of certain groups of the population. “They are buying paid ads that say that this is exactly the same, as do all other”, — said a senior source in the security services. (Representative of Facebook, says that the company has no evidence that this happened.) Deputy chair of the Senate intelligence Committee, mark Warner (Mark Warner), democratic Senator from Virginia stated that he is interested in, for example, why do four of the five top search results in Google in a day when was published the American report on the operation of 2016, was referenced on the Russian propaganda channel RT. (As stated by Google, no shenanigans related to this, he has not fixed.) Researchers from the University of southern California, meanwhile, found that nearly 20 percent of political tweets, which appeared from September 16 to October 21, 2016, was generated for bots of unknown origin. Now investigators finds out how many of these bots were Russian.

Investigation by Congress, studying the details of how spread disinformation, trying to figure out the role of Russia, but to answer the question whether Moscow help from the election headquarters of the trump. Sources familiar with the investigation, reported that the attention of investigators was attracted by two associated with trump organization: Cambridge Analytica, specializing in the analysis of the data company, which collaborated with campaign staff and partially owned by a wealthy supporter of trump, Robert Mercer (Robert Mercer), and the right website Breitbart, who has led the political adviser to trump Stephen Bannon (Stephen Bannon).

Congressional investigators are now looking for links between these companies and the right-wing Internet activists from Eastern Europe, which the US believes Russian agents, said TIME, a source familiar with the investigation. “No one can prove it,” he says. In March the Newspapers of the media group McClatchy reported that the FBI finds out, worked whether right-wing sites like Breitbart and Infowars News with Russian botnet bombarding the Internet anticytokine stories with a mixture of facts and fictions, when trump was having trouble with the campaign.

Many are skeptical of such conspiracies, even if they exist. Cambridge Analytica shows off his ability to use algorithms for targeting voters, but the number of experienced political strategists believe the activity of the company inefficient. Ted Cruz (Ted Cruz) was used for its help in the primaries, and eventually the staff decided that I wasted money on it. Mercer, Bannon, Breitbart News and the White house has not responded to our questions about the investigation of Congress. The official representative of Cambridge Analytica said that the company is nothing to do with either Russia or Russian agents, and that she knows nothing about the investigation.

The staff of the Democratic party, trying to explain the defeat of Clinton’s elections, studied the mood of social networks in the three States that decided the outcome of the vote in favor of trump in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In each they found that undecided voters played a key role, actively acquainted with the fake news and anticytokine subjects. For example, search queries in Google the “duck” about the pedophile club, spreading under the hashtag #pizzagate was disproportionately higher in undecided districts than in the districts, who were going to vote for trump.

The result was a package of materials with the results of studies showing that, based on search behavior, someone probably managed to influence before the elections, the mood in key districts of key States. The results were distributed among members of the party preparing for elections in 2018.

While experts are trying to figure out what happened in 2016, the question remains, what will happen next. Russia claims that it is able to change the course of events by using cybermapping and actively advertises its capabilities in this area. As he wrote in the Washington Post, David Ignatius (David Ignatius), in February 2016, Putin adviser by the name of Andrey Krutskikh compared the Russian strategy of information warfare with the creation of the Soviet Union of nuclear weapons in the 1940-ies. “Soon we will receive the news arena that will allow us to speak with America on an equal footing,” said cruit.

If Russia is clearly moving forward in this area, how active the US is not very clear. Documents produced by a former employee of the national security Agency by Edward Snowden (Edward Snowden) and published by the website the Intercept show that the British were propaganda in social networks and share their experience with America. However, Chris Inglis (Chris Inglis), the former Deputy head of the national security Agency, argues that the United States do not do such things. “The Russians have overtaken us for ten years ready to use” social media to influence public opinion, he says.

However, there is some reason to believe that the United States is also played on this field. In 2010, the United States Agency for international development created a special network “Cuban Twitter” to undermine Communist control of the island. The network continued to operate until 2012. At the same time, according to the Associated Press, to expose this program, the U.S. government hired a contractor that he has processed information about Cuban cell phone users and divided them into “Pro-revolution”, “apolitical” and “anti-revolutionary”.

A big part of what we know about the mechanisms and technologies of propaganda in social networks, known to us thanks to the program Management of advanced research projects of the Ministry of defense (DARPA), which was led by Waltzman of Rand. Her task was to find out which opportunities to manipulate social networks may have advocates in the future. During the cold war, the agents could spread among certain political groups full of misinformation Newspapers and to introduce a group of influential intellectuals, provocateurs. Modern computing power and the ability to influence through the Internet, literally millions of people in real time, create, in the opinion of Waltman the potential to change behavior “on the scale of democratic governments.”

In the US the attention of society to such programmes is usually enough to power them closed. In 2014, he published several articles about the program and DARPA about the “Cuban Twitter”. This happened after only a year, after Snowden released information about the massive government surveillance programs. The program DARPA, and causes many doubts, quietly closed, when in 2015, ended its funding.

However, after the Russian hacking operation against the 2016 election the question of how to study propaganda in social networks, without violating civil liberties, has acquired special urgency. The development of technology makes it even more urgent. If now for the development of misinformation and its transfer to the specially selected “vulnerable objects” still need people in the future emotionally charged posts will be created and sent automatically.

The possibility of the U.S. government to Fund research of this kind is limited to a variety of laws that protect citizens from internal promotion, government interference in the election campaign and incursions into private life. So Waltzman created together with a number of ex-military specialists in information operations, an organization called the Association of professionals of the information sector involved in the development of measures to counter intelligence operations on social networks.

The company that owns social media, you begin to understand that they, too, it’s time to do something. Company Facebook published in April 2017 report, which admitted that its social network spread a lot of misinformation, and stated that it has tightened security measures. According to Google, evidence that Russia manipulated the search results, no, but the search engine just in case anyway have updated their algorithms. Twitter Inc. claims that she is struggling with cyberbroadband, correcting their algorithms so that they can skillfully created to block bots. “Our algorithms are automatically reconfigured when you define the accounts that behave unnaturally and manipulating Twitter trends”, — said in a statement.

In turn America to protect their future voting should be done so that Russia and other troublemakers, it was difficult to hide their information of the operation related to elections. To counter Russian intelligence operations are necessary “transparency, transparency and more transparency,” said the democratic Senator from Rhode island Sheldon Whitehouse (Sheldon Whitehouse). He has prepared a draft law limiting large anonymous donations to election campaigns (“dark money”), and the widespread use of front campaigns, which, in his opinion, complicates the tracking and identification of Russian cyberbroadband.

However, the damage was already done. “The main result [of the Russian operation in 2016] is that now during the election, we’ll always think, if it happened again, not do we see signs of this”, — says the head of Jigsaw Jared Cohen. Questioning the reliability of the results of elections in 2016, and demonstrating the vulnerability of future polls, Russia has achieved its main goal — to undermine faith in American democracy.

Meanwhile, investigators added the names of “trolls” and the names of the botnets diagrams hanging in the offices of the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies. According to them, the best way to deal with the Russian model of propaganda is to oppose it with more attractive ideas. “For this we need people with critical thinking and people with a more convincing worldview” than the Russian cynicism, says former Deputy NSA Inglis. But what could be strong enough to resist the flood of lies that Russia skillfully and purposefully flooded the social network? First we need to tell people the truth.