Cybersecurity and the fight against disinformation share one key feature that, if better understood, could point the way to a more durable defence for democracies.
Malware on the internet and the meaning of content online are reversible in ways that challenge the orderly processing of information needed for stable democracies.
In the cyber domain, order is the ability for businesses, governments and economies to function without data breaches, disruptions and the theft of valuable data.
Order, in the case of online content, means the public’s ability to understand and trust the information they receive.
The weapons of malware on the internet are themselves information that, with re-engineering, can be repurposed to be used against their creators.
The Shadow Brokers hacking group exposed tools used by US intelligence agencies. Once the tools were hacked and released in 2016, they were incorporated into ransomware used against US and Western targets.
Now more than ever, protest movements and even armies can be self-funding. While we debate how the unidentified financial object that is cryptocurrency should be treated by markets, it’s increasingly becoming a form of power.
“Ukraine’s official Twitter account made the appeal for cryptocurrency donations on Saturday following the country’s invasion by Russia, posting digital wallets addresses for tokens including bitcoin and ether.”
“The Ontario Provincial Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police ordered all regulated financial firms to cease facilitating any transactions from 34 crypto wallets tied to funding trucker-led protests in the country.”
And it’s also a way to shuffle funds from place to place, outside the view of state regulators, as say, Russian oligarchs flee to safety as their patron Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine.
“The effort comes as the Biden administration grapples with how to police the asset class amid concerns that tokens can be used to avoid the heavily-regulated traditional financial system.”
For now, these are disparate examples. But knowing where an organisation funds come from and go to now involves the sort of forensics we routinely see applied to researching social media misinformation, vast sets of data that are scrutinised for clues.
I imagine weaker states will struggle to understand the wealth flowing over their borders.
The strategy of declassifying intelligence around Russia’s intentions to invade Ukraine has recast the global narrative about Russia, and possibly about authoritarianism too.
The way the White House declassified and shared intelligence on Putin’s military intentions has effectively now robbed Russia of narrative control.
But the campaign to forewarn the public of an imminent invasion has had another collateral effect so far: It has blown up a certain unofficial view on US power, on the Western alliance, and on democracy that had come to colour the broader debate between democracy and authoritarianism.
In the latest volley of accusations and demands in the Ukraine crisis, a few topics have surfaced. Since Moscow has arguably orchestrated the crisis around Ukraine by placing more than 100,000 battle-ready troops on the border, the Kremlin has sought to define the crisis by articulating its grievances.
Given the open-ended nature of the crisis, these points of tension, on both the Kremlin’s and the West’s sides, could change again. For now, a couple of issues are up for debate.