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.

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