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30 Jul 20. Pentagon needs access to defense companies’ networks to hunt cyberthreats, says commission. The Pentagon must be able to hunt cyberthreats on the private networks of defense companies in order to strengthen national cybersecurity, according to one of the leaders of the Cyber Solarium Commission.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who co-chairs the commission, said in testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities that there must be greater visibility of these networks, in which much sensitive and classified information is kept.

“I think one of our biggest findings in the report was that while we are getting a better awareness of our own systems, we still — down to the level of some of our DoD contractors, subcontractors, all the small companies that work with the big defense primes — don’t have the level of visibility on the threat picture and the security of their networks that we need,” he said July 30.

“I just would argue that we need to figure that piece out because we just can’t be in the process of reacting to cyber intrusions after the fact. We have to identify those threats at a quicker timeline at which our adversaries can break out on networks.”

The Cyber Solarium Commission is a bipartisan organization created in the 2019 to develop a multipronged U.S. cyber strategy. The commission’s report, released in March, recommended Congress require the defense industrial base participate in threat intelligence sharing programs and threat hunting on their networks.

“Improving the detection and mitigation of adversary cyber threats to the DIB [defense industrial base] is imperative to ensuring that key military systems and functions are resilient and can be employed during times of crisis and conflict,” the report stated.

China has been accused of pilfering reams of data from the networks of defense companies, including plans for the F-35 fighter jet and sensitive data on U.S. Navy programs that, while not classified by themselves, can collectively provide vast strategic insight into Navy plans and operations, officials claim.

The commission’s report recommended that a threat-hunting program include Department of Defense threat assessment programs on DIB networks; incentives for companies to feed data collected from threat hunting to the DoD and the National Security Agency’s cybersecurity directorate; and coordination of DoD efforts with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

Congress is calling for the creation of a threat-sharing model in this year’s defense authorization bill. The Senate’s version includes a provision to direct the defense secretary to establish a threat intelligence program “to share threat intelligence with, and obtain threat intelligence from, the defense industrial base.” (Source: Defense News)

29 Jul 20. DOD’s cyber chief to exit this month. The Pentagon’s lead cybersecurity expert, Jack Wilmer, is leaving his post for a private industry role at the end of July, adding to the recent exodus of top defense officials and vacancies in defense leadership roles, FCW has confirmed.

Wilmer holds dual roles as the Defense Department’s deputy CIO for cybersecurity and chief information security officer. DOD CIO Dana Deasy called Wilmer an “incredible asset” that helped lead the department’s first Cyber Scorecard and the Cyber Risk Reduction Strategy, according to a statement.

Wilmer’s departure is one of several in recent months, including the abrupt dual resignation of Mike Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, and his deputy Lisa Porter in June. Those exits, and Wilmer’s are part of a trend of interim or acting leadership in DOD under the Trump administration.

Mark Hakun, the principal director for the deputy CIO for cyber, will assume Wilmer’s roles on the acting basis. Hakun was previously the deputy CIO for the National Security Agency. Politico first reported the news of Wilmer’s departure. (Source: Defense Systems)

29 Jul 20. US Army Future Ops Depend On Cloud – But Not On JEDI. The Army is experimentally consolidating all kinds of data to the cloud, from unit mobilization updates to target locations – without waiting for the long-delayed JEDI program.

“If you know your enemy and know yourself,” the legendary Chinese general Sun-Tzu wrote in the sixth century B.C., “you need not fear the outcome of one hundred battles.” In 2020, the US Army is finding that a new technology, cloud computing, is essential to both kinds of knowledge.

“A lot of the work that we’re doing right now [with cloud] is really giving us the ability to see ourselves more clearly,” Brig. Gen. Martin Klein, head of Strategic Operations for the Army’s Pentagon headquarters staff, told reporters last week. “When we’re mobilizing our reserve components, as we’ve done over the course of the last couple of months in the COVID-19 crisis, we’re actually able to see units move more clearly through the alert, mobilization, and deploy phases.”

There’s even a virtual “commander’s dashboard,” known as Vantage, to make it easy for senior officers – who are rarely tech geeks – to access the unit-status data now on the cloud, he said.

At the same time, on the know-your-enemy side, Klein said, the service’s Project Convergence experiments are exploring ways to move targeting data from a host of sensors – many of them operated by the Air Force and nascent Space Force – through the new tactical network the Army is developing to the new long-range missile launchers and missile defense systems now in testing. The seamless, real-time flow of data across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace is central to the emerging combat concept called Joint All-Domain Operations.

“Army Futures Command is also leveraging the cloud to great effect for the sensor-to-shooter work that we’re doing,” Klein said. “We’ve found over the course of the last six months in particular — since I’ve been here — how important the cloud is to doing that.”

Six months ago, in February, was when Klein’s directorate was created, merging previously separate staff sections for cyber/electronic warfare, mission command, and space.

“We had a couple of smaller directorates… within the G-3/5/7,” the operations section, said Klein’s boss, Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, on an AUSA webcast last week. “We recognized that actually having these disparate parts in the G-3/5/7 did not create the coordination and synchronization that we needed.”

With military command-and-control networks increasingly reliant on satellites for both communications and reconnaissance, and with hacking and jamming an increasing threat to those networks, the different functions increasingly overlapped in practice. Having them separated in the bureaucracy didn’t make sense. Putting them together under a one-star general like Klein, Flynn explained, improved coordination not only within the Army – across the staff, the Chief Information Officer (aka G-6), Army Futures Command, and more – but also between the Army, its sister services, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Bringing the bureaucracy together across organizational barriers is an important step towards bringing the Army’s data together across technical barriers.

“There’s a large effort underway, through what we call a data migration/cloud development strategy,” Flynn said. “The Army’s data is stored is primarily stored through four different locations, [including] the warfighting mission area that I own.” But those disparate systems weren’t built to easily exchange data with each other – hence the need to migrate data to the cloud.

“We’ve invested heavily in the in these large data centers, these repositories … of data that wasn’t necessarily exposed to the community of interest,” neither in the acquisition world developing new weapons, nor in the operational world employing them, Klein said. “We have found that by using cloud abstraction layers” – which handle the wonky technical details out of sight of the user – “that we’re actually able to communicate more effectively.”

“We make sure that we have common data standards, that we have common architectures to make our data available… and accessible throughout the community of interest, not only within the Army,” Klein said.

But which cloud computing system is the Army using? Whichever works, Klein said, any and all of them. “We’re actually working with multiple cloud service providers,” he said. “So we’re trying to build cloud-agnostic software, if you will, that can lift into different cloud service provider environments.”

The Pentagon’s plan to consolidate many — but not all — of its 500-plus cloud contracts into a single Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). Note the suggestion that the single “pathfinder” contract for JEDI might evolve into multiple JEDI contracts.

Those common tools will often require some tweaking to function in any particular vendor’s cloud, Klein acknowledged, but it’s a lot less effort than tying yourself to one provider and having to reinvent the wheel to use anyone else. “We know, as we go from a Microsoft Azure or an AWS, or even a Google for that matter, that there’s going to be slight variation,” he said, “[but] using these cloud agnostic tools, we are much better off than just trying to go with one system.”

Klein says the Army’s common tools should translate just fine to the Defense Department’s much-delayed Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud, when and if that emerges from its ongoing legal battles. “We’re very excited, you know, to see some kind of a DoD enterprise cloud, whatever form factor that comes in,” he said. “We know those decisions are being made right now. But in the meantime, we’ll leverage the commercial cloud service providers in order to do what we need to do.” (Source: Defense Systems)

28 Jul 20. US Army cyber chief outlines ten-year plan for information warfare. The U.S. Army’s top cyber general has described three phases that will prepare the service for information warfare over the next decade.

Appearing in a special edition of the Cyber Defense Review, a journal produced by the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, commander of Army Cyber Command, provided a road map for where his organization is headed.

Army officials have said Army Cyber Command will change its name to better reflect its mission in the information environment, though specifics have not been finalized. The command is in the midst of building new formations and skills to better compete against adversaries in the information environment.

“The stunning social media-powered rise of ISIS [the Islamic State group] in 2015, Russia’s interference in the 2016 US Presidential election, Iran’s increasing digital belligerence, and China’s disinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are upending that perception and igniting a conversation across the defense establishment regarding appropriate roles for the uniformed armed services in this environment of unprecedented information warfare,” wrote Fogarty and co-author Bryan Sparling, an adviser.

“The Army is currently evaluating whether [operations in the information environment], [information warfare], or some other concept should replace IO to describe an expanded Army mission in the IE. We are likewise considering whether Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER) should change its name to more accurately reflect the full spectrum of its mission portfolio. Regardless, ARCYBER is building upon a ten-year foundation of continual innovation, and accelerating its modernization efforts to enable information age Army operations across tactical, operational, and strategic echelons.”

Aside from new formations, some of the biggest changes to the new structure is realigning command relationships of existing units beneath Army Cyber Command, which will afford the commander more flexibility to tailor units or task organize personnel and units for missions.

Fogarty sketched out three phases Army Cyber Command will undertake over the next 10 years, with the first reaching out to mid-2021.

By that time, the command hopes to realize the initial builds of new programs and formations, many of which have already been underway for some time.

The main effort is the migration of ARCYBER’s headquarters from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to Fort Gordon, Georgia. The command uncased the colors at its new state-of-the-art headquarters attached to the National Security Agency’s Georgia division in a brief July 24 ceremony.

“For the first time, the Army’s operational and institutional Cyber forces will enjoy unprecedented synergies by operating from a single, information power projection platform,” Fogarty and Sparling wrote.

One relatively new entity is the 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion. Created in 2019, the battalion will consist of 12 teams that support brigade combat teams or other tactical formations. These “fly away” teams, as some officials call them, would help plan tactical cyber operations for commanders in theater, and unilaterally conduct missions in coordination with forces in the field. Officials previously noted that this formation will likely evolve over the years: As the force conducts operations and exercises, it may need to revisit its structure and capabilities.

One of the entities that will fall fully under ARCYBER’s command by late 2020 will be 1st Information Operations Command. The command will also undergo a reorganization to increase the number of available field information operations support teams, expanding reach-back and social media capabilities to both conventional and special operations forces, Fogarty wrote.

The last component of phase one Fogarty described is a new offensive cyber operations signal battalion. ARCYBER received approval to create the “long-needed” battalion, which will be at Fort Gordon in late 2021 and provide support to Army cyber forces.

Given this is a new entity, little information is available. However, Fogarty said it will reflect the mission previously performed by National Guard forces as Task Force Echo, for which details are also scare, except it’s known that the task force supports U.S. Cyber Command and the Cyber National Mission Force. The Cyber National Mission force conducts offensive cyber operations under the guise of defense to defend the nation from malicious cyber actors.

Soldiers stand at attention during an activation ceremony Jan. 11, 2019, at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington for the first-ever Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare and Space Detachment in the U.S. Army. I2CEWS. (U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Caleb Minor)

Fogarty said phase two, which will take place between 2021 and 2027, is where the force will “experiment and innovate.” This phase will see the employment of the new capabilities and units created in phase one.

“As Army commanders gain increased ‘sets and reps’ integrating information capabilities into sustained operations, ARCYBER, in conjunction with [Training and Doctrine Command] and Army Futures Command (AFC), will serve as the Army’s key knowledge collector for emerging 21st century warfighting art in the [information environment],” Fogarty and Sparling wrote.

During this phase, ARCYBER will create an information warfare operations center at Fort Gordon. The center will provide ARCYBER an “unprecedented,” real-time ability to sense and understand the global information environment with connectivity to all Army service component commands.

“This unique vantage point will allow ARCYBER to sense, understand, decide, and respond to emerging global IE conditions, providing options to Army senior leadership and regional Army and Joint Commanders with unmatched speed, enabling strategic decision advantage,” the authors wrote.

The creation of this new center is meant to directly benefit ARCYBER’s support to Cyber Command through Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber and the combatant commands for which it conducts cyber operations.

Critical to the success of the new operations center will be a specialized military intelligence brigade organic to ARCYBER, Fogarty stated. This brigade, which is not yet resourced, will focus on the information environment to include cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.

Fogarty also mentioned that as information warfare evolves, the missions of the offensive cyber teams that ARCYBER fulfills for Cyber Command through the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade could shift toward shaping the information environment.

The Army will also evolve its tactical forces by expanding the current cyber and electromagnetic activities, or CEMA, cells within the staff sections to include information operations, psychological operations and public affairs personnel. This cell works to inform and plan operations for the commander at echelon within the CEMA environment.

Along those same lines, the Army will work to optimize Reserve components. Fogarty noted that many of the information capabilities aligned to support conventional forces reside in the reserves.

Fogarty also described a fair amount of experimentation that will occur in phase two. This will help inform the continued development of forces and capabilities to support multidomain operations. This experimentation will include:

  • The Multidomain Task Force, specifically ARCYBER, assisting in the training and readiness of the Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic-Warfare, and Space Battalion.
  • A theater information command, which is an Army Futures Command concept for a two-star command, providing theater commanders with influence capabilities that will be tested during Joint Warfighting Assessments and Defender exercises.
  • The Information Warfare Task Force-Afghanistan, which was led by the Army Special Operations community, will conduct military information support operations, social media collection, data analytics and cutting-edge digital advertising technology for influence messaging.

Phase three will take place from 2028 and beyond, and focus on multidomain capabilities. By this point, Fogarty and his co-author write that whatever Army Cyber Command becomes, it should be able to succeed in information and unconventional warfare, conduct intelligence and counter-adversary reconnaissance, and demonstrate a credible deterrent.

“As part of the Joint Force, the Army must master these essential Competition Actions through what [Multi-Domain Operations] MDO calls ‘active engagement’ to become MDO-capable,” they write. “In each critical task, ARCYBER will play an essential supporting role as the Army better develops its ability to conduct active engagement through the converged employment of maneuver and information capabilities focused on achieving desired cognitive effects and behaviors in our adversaries.” (Source: C4ISR & Networks)

28 Jul 20. HawkEye 360 Announces a Global Radio Signal Monitoring Service. The Regional Awareness Subscription service delivers daily signal geolocation data for large regions. HawkEye 360 Inc., the first commercial company to use satellites to create a new class of radio frequency (RF) data and data analytics, today announced that it is offering a daily Regional Awareness Subscription (RAS) service. Leveraging the company’s RFGeo product, RAS delivers mission-critical insights by allowing organizations to identify, monitor, and analyze signal behavior over time. Large-scale RF signal mapping provides deeper situational awareness in these regions, with the data sets enabling trend analysis using traditional and artificial intelligence algorithms.

“We’re offering a massive collection of data across a broad area. We are also enabling organizations to access periodic data and analytics for areas they want to monitor,” said Tim Pavlick, VP of Product, HawkEye 360. “Subscribers will receive a daily collection of RF data, allowing them to gain comprehensive insight into their regions, establish historical analysis, and augment other geospatial intelligence solutions.”

HawkEye 360 will work with customers to define a Regional Awareness Subscription that can span millions of square kilometers. Current RAS collection areas include the Mediterranean, South China Sea, and the Korean Peninsula. HawkEye 360 curates a collection plan that routinely gathers a combination of high-demand signals. The company delivers the data in an open standard GeoJSON format that seamlessly integrates with most applications.

“With our Regional Awareness Subscription service, we provide customers with a dependable source of timely, trusted RF signal insights that have been detected, characterized, and geolocated over the region,” said Alex Fox, EVP Business Development, Sales and Marketing, HawkEye 360. “These insights allow our customers to identify, understand, and respond to activities important to their operations more effectively.”

HawkEye 360’s RFGeo product identifies and geolocates RF signals collected by HawkEye 360’s proprietary satellite constellation. RFGeo is the first commercially available product offering global spectrum awareness across a broad range of radio signals. HawkEye 360 plans to expand the RAS offering to include new areas of interest important to customers. (Source: PR Newswire)

27 Jul 20. Leidos (NYSE: LDOS), a FORTUNE® 500 science and technology leader, today announced it has selected four new companies for the Leidos Alliance Partner Network (LAPN). LAPN leverages the Leidos supplier base to drive innovation, enhance program performance, and build efficiency.

HP Inc., Palo Alto Networks, and Splunk Inc., have been selected as Leidos Technology Alliance Partners. Dataiku Inc. has been selected as an Emerging Technology Partner.

“These new relationships have played a crucial role in integration, business capture, and new program start-ups,” said Bob Gemmill, Leidos’ Chief Procurement Officer. “We are excited to welcome Dataiku, HP, Palo Alto Networks, and Splunk to our growing team. Their next-generation innovations, coupled with our intimate understanding of the customers’ needs, will only accelerate the adoption of important new technologies.”

“We’re very excited to advance our relationship with Leidos as a Technology Alliance Partner,” said Todd Gustafson, president HP Federal LLC. “This is a great opportunity for us to exhibit HP innovation, and we look forward to collaborating with Leidos on new customer-focused solutions and technologies that equally benefit our businesses and customers.”

“Palo Alto Networks has a deep commitment to the U.S. Federal Government. We are pleased to team with Leidos to offer advanced cybersecurity solutions that help our joint customers meet their mission objectives,” said Nick Urick, vice president of Federal Sales for Palo Alto Networks and president of Palo Alto Networks Public Sector LLC. “Leidos is a recognized and trusted name in the federal government. Together, we look forward to continuing to build on our common history of delivering enduring, adaptable and innovative technologies.”

“Splunk is proud to work closely with Leidos to help even more organizations across the civil, defense, health and intelligence sectors remove the barriers between data and action,” said Frank Dimina, Splunk’s vice president, Public Sector. “Splunk’s Data-to-Everything Platform offers a unique, investigative approach to data, which gives government the ability to make assured decisions and take decisive action at critical speed. We look forward to helping more Leidos customers solve their toughest mission challenges and turn their data into doing.”

“We’re honored to be included as a Leidos Emerging Technology Vendor, especially at a time when federal organizations across the United States are embracing AI to power new and exciting use cases,” said Florian Douetteau, CEO of Dataiku Inc. “Dataiku has a lot to bring to the table with our vision of bringing organizations together around AI, and with the experience and expertise Leidos has, we’re well-positioned to support their requirements together.”

Through this arrangement, the companies will work in a mutually beneficial and cooperative environment to enhance their ability to compete and perform in government and commercial markets. The LAPN consists of three partner levels: corporate strategic, technology alliance, and emerging technology. Partner companies draw upon Leidos’ deep integration expertise and customer relationships to deliver mission success for their customers. (Source: PR Newswire)

27 Jul 20. The US Army is procuring its new tactical network tools. Andrew Eversden. The Army program office tasked with network modernization has started procuring its first iteration of new network tools, known as Capability Set ‘21. The Army’s Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical received mid-tier acquisition authority for Capability Set ’21 in July this year, according to Paul Mehney, director of public communications at the office. Four infantry brigade combat teams will receive Capability Set ’21 equipment in fiscal 2021.

PEO C3T will procure Capability Set ’21 to support fielding to the new tools to infantry and Stryker brigade combat teams from FY21 to FY23. Tools from Capability Set ’21 will serve as the foundation for Capability Set ’23, which will focus on improving resilient communications capabilities in contested environments.

In April, the Army network team completed its critical design review for Capability Set ’21. During the review, it finalized decisions regarding the types and amounts of technology needed across brigades, such as the number of single-channel radios versus leader radios.

“Critical design was as much about making sure that we ended up with a design that we could afford to buy in the quantities we promised as it was exploring specific technical issues,” said then-Maj. Gen. David Bassett, who led PEO C3T and is now a three-star general serving as director of the Defense Contract Management Agency.

For example, Bassett said, going into the critical design review, the team thought it would be able to have a smaller quantity of leader radios, which are two-channel radios, and a larger quantity of single-channel radios. The Army ultimately landed back at the original quantities it envisioned and reduced the amount of single-channel radios while increasing the leader radio amount.

On satellite communications terminals, the Army had to grapple with the affordability of the number of the terminals. Bassett said they ultimately landed at a “middle ground” of satellite communications terminals, and Gallagher said it will be “a lot” more than what units have today.

There were some emerging technologies with which the Army experimented for Capability Set ’21, but decided to defer them to Capability Set ’23 because of affordability reasons or lack of technical maturity.

“The answer is not that we never want them, just that we’re not confident enough in those capabilities and their affordability in this time frame to include them in our [Capability Set] ’21 baseline,” Bassett said.

When the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team began work on Capability Set ’21 a few years ago, it was looking for existing technologies that could solve network capability gaps. In Capability Set ’21, the Army is looking for “smaller, lighter, faster” capabilities and “more options” on network transport.

Critical design review for Capability Set ’21 also moved from a 100 percent classified network to a 75 percent secure but unclassified network at the battalion level and below, which will save money and time with security clearances, according to Col. Garth Winterle, project manager for tactical radio at PEO C3T.

The Army also plans to go through a competitive procurement process for the technologies, Winterle told C4ISRNET in a May interview.

Anywhere “where there was a stand-in capability where we know from market research that there’s other vendors, we’ll perform the same sort of competitive actions,” Winterle said. (Source: Defense News)

23 Jul 20. Memes, the pandemic and the new tactics of information warfare. The COVID-19 pandemic is evidence that Russia and China have accelerated adoption of their age-old influence and disinformation tactics to the modern era, national security experts and military leaders said.

Those countries are leveraging U.S. laws, social media platforms and divisions within society to their larger strategic advantage and as a way to weaken the United States.

“This pandemic crisis has made it very, very clear that Russia, China and others intend to strategically use cyber-enable information operations against the U.S.,” Lt. Gen. Mary O’Brien, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber effects operations, said during a Joint Service Academy Cybersecurity Conference webinar June 11.

“They’re injecting disinformation, which is not a new concept in itself, but now by incorporating cyber means, they’re reaching millions of people to exacerbate existing tensions within the U.S. and between us, our allies and partners.”

She said these efforts include spreading conspiracy theories and confusing messages about the virus such as its origins and risks.

Such tactics are here to stay.

“Our adversaries have made it very clear that this aspect of strategic competition will be enduring,” O’Brien added.

These tactics, which include waging influence campaigns below the threshold of armed conflict, have forced the military, and U.S. government more broadly, to rethink its strategies and views toward conflict. Traditionally, the United States government has taken a binary view of war and peace, while adversaries such as Russia in particular have viewed conflict on a perpetual continuum.

“In many ways, we have trained ourselves as a service at every Red Flag we’ve gone to that conflict begins when two fighters engage or we find a target on the battlespace. So we’ve really trained ourselves that conflict begins at that moment,” Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, commander of 16th Air Force, the service’s first information warfare command, said at a July 15 Mitchell Institute webcast. Red Flag is the Air Force’s premier tactical training event.

“Was the first element really when we got into conflict in the information environment … the first day that one of our companies was hacked that the intellectual property theft of one of our weapon systems stole?” he said. “Was that really when conflict began? Was it the day that Russian hackers hacked into the DNC? Was that really the day that conflict began for our nation and how we should be thinking about it when the adversaries went to another level of using some level of malign activity that is outside of things that we would consider norms.”

As such, the military is looking at ways to expose this activity abroad when it can.

“Sixteenth Air Force units are focused on developing tactics, techniques and procedures and they’re looking to identify, expose and when directed, countering the threat from the state sponsored disinformation campaigns,” O’Brien said. “This is continuing, I think we’ll see it again as we address the racial discrimination.”

Adversaries have exploited U.S. laws and principles, such as the freedom of speech with online platforms, which makes outright banning accounts difficult. They’ve also targeted existing divisions within society such as protests over police tactics and racial equality.

“[Adversaries] also are in a position where they can take advantage of a lot of the disinformation/misinformation that’s created right here at home in the United States by actual Americans who understand the language in a way Moscow couldn’t at a native level,” Cindy Otis, vice president of analysis at Alethea Group, a start-up that counters disinformation and social media manipulation. told C4ISRNET.

Experts explained that adversaries in many cases don’t have to create content, although many choose to.

“At the end of the day they’re really just amplifying our existing social divisions. We suspect, especially lately, that they’ve really done enough amplification that they’re just kind of allowing things to snowball now …There’s enough existing division that it really only requires tiny nudges at this point to amplify,” Maj. Jessica Dawson, research lead for information warfare and an assistant professor at the Army Cyber Institute, told C4ISRNET.

One way they do this is called memetic warfare, which involves sharing memes on various social media platforms to stoke a particular reaction from various groups.

“When we think about memetic warfare, what’s really happening is we’re taking these sort of deep seeded emotional stories and we’re collapsing them down into a picture, usually it’s something that has a very, very quick emotional punch,” she said. “They’re collapsing these narratives down into images that are often not attributed, that’s one of the things about memes is they really aren’t, someone usually isn’t signing them, going ‘I’m the artist.’ There [are] these really emotional punches that are shared very, very quickly, they’re self replicating in a lot of ways because you see it, you react and then you immediately pass it on.”

While many experts noted that these tactics are nothing new, the difference is the internet.

“The major change throughout history is today they’re able to spread and amplify and reach people where they are all over the world in a way that was never possible before,” Otis, who previously was a CIA analyst, said.

Previously, nations such as the Soviet Union had to prop up media outlets and place stories in newspapers around the world hoping they’d be picked up in English language outlets. Now, they just have to tweet.

In some cases, they are overt social media channels and actors might not even hide their origin, but other more covert cases, states might use certain influencers or cut outs to do their bidding.

What’s the point?

The goal of these operations varies slightly, but experts said they serve the ultimate purpose of put down the United States compared to their own nations.

“For Russia it all goes back to the desire to undermine United States’ global credibility but also show their own population ‘hey, you know that democracy you want, it’s actually not a great thing … look how it’s turning out for the United States,‘” Otis said.

She added that Russia tries to undermine the credibility of the United States on issues such as human rights, something the United States is active in promoting on the world stage, by highlighting social divisions such as potential police brutality and racial injustice.

Dawson noted this can also distract from what Russia is doing abroad.

Russia also wants to discourage citizens from voting, Otis said by making large swaths of the population feel disenfranchised. Often times, these actors will play both sides of an issue to maximize reach and discord.

When it comes to China, Dawson noted that they are trying to appear more benevolent on the world stage to present itself as a world power, which is much harder. They are also good at making information disappear online, she said, citing information on the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Otis pointed to Chinese benevolent efforts such as providing medical aid to nations such as Italy during the ongoing pandemic.

Combating these efforts, including those focused internally at domestic populations and undermining government, can be difficult given the existing divisions within society and the broad speech freedoms guaranteed.

Otis explained that the government can sometimes be mired in its own bureaucratic processes, noting it can be its own worst enemy.

She provided the example of Taliban forces in Afghanistan publishing in their media channels that the United States and NATO forces bombed a school killing scores of children. Those stories would go viral in their circles and sometimes make their way to mainstream outlets. When questioned about those claims by reporters, U.S. officials would explain they have to conduct an investigation, which could take months. By the time the investigation is concluded and the claim is found to hold no truth, the damage is already done and the Taliban have successfully recruited against it.

Dawson noted that one way to begin combating disinformation is building trust from the local to the national level while also addressing the underlying domestic problems adversaries are exploiting from abroad. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)

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Spectra Group Plc

Spectra Group (UK) Ltd, internationally renowned award-winning information security and communications specialist with a proven record of accomplishment.

Spectra is a dynamic, agile and security-accredited organisation that offers secure Hosted and Managed Solutions and Cyber Advisory Services with a track record of delivering on time, to spec and on budget.

With over 15 years of experience in delivering solutions for governments around the globe, elite militaries and private enterprises of all sizes, Spectra’s platinum and gold-level partnerships with third-party vendors ensure the supply of best value leading-edge technology.

Spectra was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise (Innovation) in 2019 for SlingShot.

In November 2017, Spectra Group (UK) Ltd announced its listing as a Top 100 Government SME Supplier by the UK Crown Commercial Services.

Spectra’s CEO, Simon Davies, was awarded 2017 Businessman of the Year by Battlespace magazine.

Founded in 2002, the Company is based in Hereford, UK and holds ISO 9001:2015, ISO 27001:2013 and Cyber Essentials Plus accreditation.

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