By: JULIAN REICHELT
The three biggest threats in the digital world are Russia, Russia, and Russia.
China has similar offensive capacities to Russia and behaves in a similarly aggressive manner, but, unlike Russia, it is interested in a stable, trade-oriented world order, while the Kremlin has elevated the division of the Western world to the supreme political objective, and it pursues this goal every day. Russia uses its digital firepower differently from almost all other countries for the destruction. In the digital world, Russia has long ago shifted from the cold war to the hot.
Cyber Security Summit of Munich Security Conference at Stanford University (California), where I am this Monday, is a perfect place to talk about the main threats we face these days.
- Russia is the only country in the world combining offensive and highly sophisticated cyber-warfare, conventional warfare, and special operations.
The annexation of the Crimea and the occupation of the Eastern Ukraine are the best examples. In both cases, the conventional warfare (no territorial markings, paid mercenaries, guided leadership by intelligence officers) is precisely and professionally designed, to change and distort the reality by a massive offensive in the digital world, especially in the social media.
The Russian state propaganda has been so successful that even Western media and politicians speak of the “civil war” in Ukraine. Such a civil war does not exist. Ukrainians do not shoot at other Ukrainians. There has been little ethnic tensions prior to the conflict. What is happening in the Eastern Ukraine is a Russian occupation that has been successfully reinterpreted as an internal Ukrainian conflict by Russia’s digital warfare and which serves now Russia as a chip in political games.
When the Foreign Ministers meet for negotiations on the Eastern Ukraine, they talk about a conflict layout that does not exist. Therefore any solution becomes impossible. This also allows Russia look like an outsider and not a war party. A more significant triumph of digital propaganda is hard to imagine.
- Russia has declared digital war on the concept of truth.
The Kremlin has understood that the openness of Western societies is our greatest strength and our greatest weakness at the same time. Russia uses non-negotiable rights like freedom of the press, to embed in our society propaganda stations like Russia Today, and to take over the narrative, primarily through its digital channels. It is sufficient for Russia to sow doubt and to spread the message that there is no such thing as the truth, but only versions of the truth.
Was Flight MH17 actually downed by Russia trained militiamen with a Russian Buk system? (Yes). Did Assad really use chemical weapons against civilians? (Yes). Was a German girl of Russian ethnicity raped by refugees in Berlin? (No). Are the American attacks in Syria as bad as the Russian ones? (No). Does Erdogan’s son make good deals and good money with the barbarian ISIS butchers? (No). The answers to all these questions could hardly be clearer.
But Russia has succeeded to sow doubts about the concept of truth with a major digital offensive. The logic of intelligence professionals in the Kremlin is: in a world without truth one can claim anything and do anything, deny anything, without fear of consequences. In Syria, this approach has led the United States to negotiate with Russia over “humanitarian aid” and military cooperation, while Russia is committing a gigantic war crime and holds a war criminal in power with a war of annihilation against civilian infrastructure.
Russian propaganda spreads confusion so effectively that hardly any western government dares to call out Russian war crimes for what they are.
- Russia skillfully exploits the West’s widespread feeling of digital vulnerability to fuel mistrust in our own institutions.
With people such as Edward Snowden and organizations like Wikileaks, Russia succeeded to bring the debate about depravity in the institutions of the Western democracies into everyday political discourse. At the same time, we completely ignore the fact that this debate is controlled exactly by the government, which does not respect any freedom of the information, deploys secret services against its own population, does not respect civil rights, and kills the opponents in politics and media.
In the IT scene, Putin is still regarded as the patron saint of the “hero” Edward Snowden, instead as the cunning intelligence officer he always was, who has recognized the gigantic opportunities offered for his disinformation and destabilization campaign by the digital world.
- Almost all Western intelligence agencies have clear evidence of Russian hacker attacks on the heart of our democracies.
The Democratic Party in the United States and the computer system of the Bundestag in Germany are just two examples. There is a strong body of evidence that Russia directly wants to influence the free elections in sovereign countries.
Russia has already succeeded in significantly reducing the confidence in digital voting systems (such as those used in the United States) and creating the perception of election results as not the truth, but a version of the truth. This is devastating and extremely dangerous for the very foundations of our democracies.
We must defend our digital freedom!
As a journalist and as a citizen of a free country I would like to see at the Cyber Security Summit of Munich Security Conference an intensive discussion on how determined and aggressive our opposition to this threat can be.
It is not enough to strengthen digital defenses and to insulate us in a world of air gaps. In the interests of digital freedom we need to develop offensive strategies to reclaim the narrative in the digital world and to reinforce the concepts of truth, facts and trusted institutions.
When the Soviet Union sent its propaganda to West Berlin and West Germany via radio waves, the USA used RIAS, the Radio in the American Sector, to defeat this attack with the truth. What we need is a RIAS concept for the digital age!
The article is published with the permission of the author, Julian Reichelt, chief editor of Bild Digital; source: Bild of 19.09.2016. A valid reference to the author and our project is required for any reprint or further use of the material.
Translated by Andrii Gryganskyi
Edited by Max Alginin
(CC BY) Information specially prepared for InformNapalm.org site, an active link to the authors and our project is obligatory for any reprint or further use of the material.