The New ‘Red Scare’
America is under attack by the Russian government. We are at war, and Maryland was among the top targets in a Russian cyberwar campaign on social media. The nation’s defenses are woefully inadequate, and our business and political leaders have no idea how to combat this pernicious enemy.
Russia’s cyberwar campaign against the United States has received widespread coverage, largely in the context of the influence it played on the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Whether American voting patterns were altered significantly enough to spur Donald Trump’s victory is not the point. The point is that Russia has identified America’s weak point and is exploiting it for Moscow’s own nefarious ends.
Throughout the Cold War, we knew our foe and knew how to defeat the Soviet Union’s bid to spread world communism. The threat of nuclear annihilation has a way of focusing people’s attention on an imminent threat. With cyberwar, the threat is always vague, and the effects might not be evident until the damage is done — when it’s too late.
To his credit, Russian President Vladimir Putin has executed this attack with amazing stealth and ingenuity. Russian agents clearly have spent years studying American democracy and the constitutional guarantees that made this country great. Putin’s plot was to use our freedoms of speech, press, religion and commerce against us.
The Associated Press, using data collected by cybersecurity firm Secureworks, analyzed a database of 19,000 malicious links, emails and hacking targets to compile a profile of the attackers. The attacks on American targets from March 2015 through May 2016 occurred almost entirely during Moscow working hours. Attackers from a hacking group nicknamed “Fancy Bear” raided specific email accounts to glean data that could be used against individuals.
They placed thousands of ads on social media. Maryland was among the top three targets. They created fake news accounts, then created false Facebook accounts to post and distribute the fake news to unwitting readers, who then recirculated such items to their friends.
It didn’t take long before a vast network of misinformation existed across the United States designed deliberately to foment nationwide distrust and conflict.
It worked. Before 2015, fake news was the kind of laughable nonsense in the National Enquirer. Today, many Americans — including Trump himself — regard the truth as a matter of opinion. If you disagree with the news as reported by reputable outlets, then it must be fake.
Consider the damage Russia has inflicted: Americans no longer trust reputable news outlets. Election results are regarded as dubious. If a Facebook or Twitter posting aligns with Americans’ political belief system, then it’s accepted as the truth.
As congressional hearings are now making clear, this country still doesn’t understand our enemy or how to defend ourselves from future attacks. Be very worried, because this threat is real.