New evidence shows that information from the Democratic National Committee hack might not be something you should trust: it appears to skirt a strange new territory between hacking and deliberate misinformation, and it all centers on an equally new military strategy from Russia.
Today, Motherboard published “the so-far definitive piece on the DNC hack and Russia,” as PopSci writer and Foxtrot Alpha contributor Kelsey Atherton put it. The piece’s headline is straightforward: All Signs Point To Russia Being Behind The DNC Hack.
The piece illustrates clearly how the hack does not appear to have sprung from the work of a single crazed hacker, as it presented itself. Instead, there are key pieces of evidence that point to a team of hackers, hackers working from Russia.
There were IP addresses that multiple cybersecurity companies link to Russian intelligence, hastily-deleted bits of cyrillic tucked deep into code, a user named after a statue in front of KGB headquarters, strange messages to the press that didn’t match the hacker’s claimed Romanian identity, and there were “fingerprints” that match a Russian spy hack of the German government.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t trust information coming out of the DNC hacks just because they came from Russian spies. I’m saying it because the Russian military is specifically out not just to hack, but to spread misinformation through hacking, as Motherboard’s Thomas Rid explains:
The larger operation, with its manipulative traits, fits well into the wider framework of Russia’s evolving military doctrine, known as New Generation Warfare or the “Gerasimov Doctrine,” named after Valery Gerasimov, the current Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. This new mindset drastically expands what qualifies as a military target, and it expands what qualifies as military tactic. Deception and disinformation are part and parcel of this new approach, as are “camouflage and concealment,” as the Israeli analyst Dima Adamsky pointed out in an important study of Russia’s evolving strategic art published in November last year.
“Informational struggle,” Adamsky observes, is at the center of New Generation Warfare. Informational struggle means “technological and psychological components designed to manipulate the adversary’s picture of reality, misinform it, and eventually interfere with the decision-making process of individuals, organizations, governments,and societies.”
The Guccifer 2 operation appears to be designed and executed as part of a wider “informational struggle.” The implications are highly significant.
Rid further elaborates:
This tactic and its remarkable success is a game-changer: exfiltrating documents from political organisations is a legitimate form of intelligence work. The US and European countries do it as well. But digitally exfiltrating and then publishing possibly manipulated documents disguised as freewheeling hacktivism is crossing a big red line and setting a dangerous precedent: an authoritarian country directly yet covertly trying to sabotage an American election.
The Motherboard article notes that there’s evidence some documents in the DNC hack were altered or created new by the hackers, and that neither journalists nor you personally should view the leak as a totally reliable source.
Certainly this all sets a troubling precedent for this election. What it means for war making in the future is even more worrying.