Used to be that cyber war was considered actions of an adversary to take down a system using the Internet. Like crippling a financial system, hacking into and holding hostage a web site, compromising power and communication grids etc. That definition is really old now!
As authorities uncover Russian interference – specifically the work of trolls, fake social media accounts, and even advertising piped through Facebook, Twitter and Google – we should understand that cyber warfare is more subtle, and has outgrown the old definitions. It is about disrupting the behaviors, and messing with the minds of citizens. Before we show our irritation with foreign culprits, we should be unhappy with how we citizens are easily manipulated by what is online.
The glue that holds us together appears to be easily dissolved by what passes for ‘information.’ As the Philadelphia Inquirer story reveals, we are experiencing high-tech cracks and wedges to undermine us. They worked because of a critical mass of people who unthinkingly re-tweet and share posts and sponsored content. Content that few care check where the source of the post is.
Consider this sponsored ad (featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer story). It looks so silly, and poorly crafted that you’d think any person with some common sense would not even read it, let alone pass it along to others. Variations of these include chain-letters, and memes that no one knows the origin, but often accompanies a statement like “Could I hear an amen?”
For the record I never respond with an amen, for two reasons. The word is a statement of approval or concurrence reserved for prayer. It’s not the linguistic equivalent to the Like button. Also, someone’s rant does always not require public approval to make it more valid. You can still be a friend whether or not you agree with someone’s pet peeve. And for heaven’s sake (pun intended), don’t Like or re-tweet this post unless you a read it in its entirety.
Cyber war is no longer just about attacking hardware or infrastructure. It’s about unhinging us through the things that pass through the pipes that connect our hardware. It’s not about a denial of service, but about a denial of common sense.