“This is an advisory that studies the weaponized digital applications used by foreign nation-states for influence operations”
– James Scott, Sr. Fellow ICIT & CCIOS
The weaponization of digital vectors for a more expedient and potent manner of message delivery has become a pandemic as nation-states use technological means to streamline distribution of fake news, propaganda and other ill-intended content. National Security now depends more on winning the hearts and minds of a population than it does on kinetic warfare. With the hyper-evolution of cyberspace and technology, we have become a world less divided by geographical borders and more divided by ideological variation. Few things are certain in the emerging cyber-kinetic-meta-war; however, one absolute is that dragnet surveillance capitalism, formerly a privacy issue, has metastasized into a national security epidemic. Malicious influence operations are undermining the willpower of populations and the integrity of democracies across the globe. The delivery of objective, non-partisan research, and advisory to key decision makers is vital to opposing these sophisticated multi-vector operations.
In direct response to this new threat, and to advance federal stakeholder understanding of how nation states such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are weaponizing cyberspace in order to inject their influence operations on the American and European populations, the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT) has introduced the Center for Cyber-Influence Operations Studies (CCIOS). CCIOS “is an advisory that studies the weaponized digital applications used by foreign nation-states for influence operations,” says James Scott, Sr. Fellow ICIT & CCIOS. As America’s Non-Partisan Cybersecurity Think-Tank, ICIT and select pivotal partners are uniquely positioned to bolster America and our allies’ resistance to malicious influence operations by holding regular briefings and publishing research that exposes foreign actors’ tools, techniques, and procedures. Some of the topics which will be explored by CCIOS include the digital applications of:
- Information warfare and other forms of digitized propaganda [nation state, special interest groups]
- Psychological warfare
- Political warfare
- Other forms of perception steering
Adversaries are influencing populations through the distribution of polarizing propaganda, the propagation of armies of machine-learning driven bots on social media, the conflation of real and fake news, and the artificial inflation of ideological divides. Influence operations are asymmetric- a relatively low-level attacker can expend minimal resources to inflict significant harm on a large and well-resourced target. Technologically advanced and well-resourced adversaries can inflict proportionally more substantial damage. America and other democratic nations are targeted by the Machiavellian machinations of a plethora of threat actors; but, meaningful objective research and nonpartisan advisory can minimize and mitigate the success of impact. Active attackers range from hail-mary threats (North Korea, radical jihadists, etc.), to ideological hacktivists (Anonymous, the Syrian Electronic Army, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.), to well-resourced nation-states (Russia, China, etc.). Old-world geopolitical paradigms, archaic legal frameworks, and legacy technologies are gossamer against persistent threat campaigns. For instance, information warfare attacks have been used to shape public discourse, psychological warfare attacks have been launched to influence elections, and faux-viral false narratives have been promoted to damage societal cohesion.
At this moment, armies of malicious, A.I. driven bots are leveraging machine-learning algorithms to polarize and provoke both sides of political, societal, and ideological debates by inflating an illusory faux-virility to widen geopolitical and socio-economical divides, to destabilize democratic institutions, and to weaken national security. Chinese companies and threat actors are collecting vast stores of psychographic and demographic data that can be leveraged by Big Data machine learning algorithms to produce insights that facilitate information warfare against populations, Counterintelligence operations against Intelligence assets, and precision-targeted attacks against critical infrastructure executives.
Radical extremists of various ideologies are employing open-source machine-learning and artificial-intelligence solutions to expedite “wound-collector” recruitment, to psychologically pray on vulnerable populations, to fan the flames of illusory ideological divisions, and to evade law enforcement. Legacy digital defenses and antiquated legal frameworks are not equipped to prevent a single unsophisticated “troll” from digitally manipulating public perceptions. Without a quantum-renaissance in the study and delivery of research into influence operations, America has limited chances of thwarting resourced and sophisticated information warfare attacks from adversaries such as Russia and China.
The legislative and intelligence communities are still basing their defense concepts on traditional “brick and mortar” strategies that are no match for the new, digitized “Influence Operations 2.0” methodology that is rapidly gaining momentum against our Nation. CCIOS research will be hyper-focused on all facets of information warfare, the weaponization of psychographic and demographic information, influence campaigns, and propaganda studies exclusive to digital weaponization. With the October 2017 release of the whitepaper “The New Cyber-Kinetic-Meta-War: The Digitization of Influence Operations,” ICIT’s government advisory will be officially launching the Center for Cyber-Influence Operations Studies (CCIOS) to provide essential advisory, investigate emerging incidents, and to disseminate next-generation research for this hyper-evolving space.
Federal Agencies and Congressional offices interested in being notified of briefings, research, and other CCIOS news should contact ICIT for more information.