Dr. Khatuna Mshvidobadze
In the summer of 2008, Russia attacked Georgia in the first-ever combined kinetic and cyberwar. Sure, the 1990-1991 Gulf War was dubbed the first information war—the use of information in war is not new. What was new in 2008 was that Russia employed its cyber arm as an independent operational capability alongside its land, sea and air forces. The targets were critical infrastructure. The strategic objectives were to sap Georgia’s will to resist and to provide cover for Russia’s information campaign to deceive the west into believing that somehow little Georgia was the aggressor.
Operational security was paramount—Moscow had to keep everyone confounded about who was behind the cyber attacks. Just like the kinetic invasion, the cyber attacks were long and well-planned, but Russia did a great job covering its tracks. When the shooting stopped, well-meaning researchers investigated what had happened. However, coming from a profession that focuses on computer screens and a culture unaccustomed to the kind of deception that is part of everyday Russian life, they foundered.
The attacks led us to Russia. We noted uncanny timing. Western experts were indeed confounded when the trail led to kids and criminals. I have been following that trail ever since. Insight into Russia, all-source intelligence and a keen understanding of denial and deception were needed.
Today, saying that the Russian state employs a network of cybercriminals to do its online dirty work is commonplace. One might just as well pretend not to know the identity of those little green men who seized Crimea. But when I started saying it in 2010, you would not believe the resistance I encountered.
Soon after, I met Jeff Bardin, my professor at Utica College, who became mentor and friend. Jeff brings an extraordinary expertise in all-source intelligence and the ways of denial and deception. At this year’s RSA Conference, it is my privilege to combine with him in a talk entitled Deception, Distortion, Dishonesty: The Real Story Behind the Hype.
Jeff will lead off, analyzing the types of D&D, its various dimensions and some tactics that can be employed online and offline. The planners, he will say, must have clear reasons for utilizing D&D based on their goals. They must define the strategic, operational and tactical goals of deception and the criteria for success.
I will point out that Russians do not see cyber warfare as distinct but regard it as just one tool of information war. Look at 2008. The cyber attacks aimed at hampering the Georgian government’s ability to communicate while Moscow’s propaganda machine painted Russia as the aggrieved party. “Information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of an enemy,” writes Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff. It’s a remarkable statement, but nothing new—Russian thinking on information warfare has been consistent since the 1980s.
Now, the Kremlin commands a vast network of online intelligence agencies, scientific organizations, academic institutions, criminals, and trolls. We’ll discuss how Russia deals with enemies, foreign and domestic, cyber players and organization, the growing role of the military, tactics, techniques, procedures and tools, vectors, false flags, troll factories and more. Come join us on Wednesday at the RSA Conference.
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