Take Care. Schemers are afoot. And misinformation is one of their favourite toys.
I recently read a series of articles in the latest Wired Magazine about how Russia, master minded by Putin, is now using the world wide web as a weapon against the West.
Because it’s there, and because it is the ideal platform from which to foment unrest, influence elections, undermine financial and political institutions and disseminate misinformation. Because a hacker can remain (relatively) anonymous and easily cover his tracks.
And equally importantly, most of us trust the net.
We believe what we see and read here and don’t take the time — don’t have the time — to check everything we read.
Take the 2016 US elections. US intelligence services tracking the activities of APT25 (Fancy Bear) know this Russian hacking group targeted the Democratic national Committee and officials on Hilary Clinton’s campaign. And set things up so that leaked emails found their way into the public domain by way of Wikileaks and other sites.
Security sources now say that such hacking groups are still active in Europe, where elections have just taken place in France, followed by our own here in the UK and in Germany later in the year.
So what does this mean for you, innocently going about your business and assuming that every article you read, every post a friend shares with you is bone fide? That even the good old BBC, the Times or your most trusted news source may be picking up misinformation from online sources without realising it and giving it a ring of authority? What if journalists don’t do enough due diligence?
First of all there are the ‘leaks’ — the revelations. Before you believe what you read ask a few questions. Who might benefit from leaking that information and getting it out in to the public domain? Who is damaged by it? How might it change or influence your decisions — to vote, say?
Take some care too, about what you share. You may be inadvertently spreading misinformation.
The buzz on social networks is another area where you could exercise a bit of caution. State hackers create thousands of twitter accounts and flood them with tweets to push their agenda. Just because something is trending on twitter does not mean it’s genuine. Whatever you do, don’t base an important business or life decision on it until you can verify it in some way.
Those same hackers are also really good a flooding comments onto popular blog posts that serve their ends. Take all those comments with a grain or two of salt. And form your own opinions.
It’s not just Russia and North Korea who are in on the action. Our own government is far from blameless in this respect. GCHQ, the CIA and other intelligence agencies in the West are happily at work here, manufacturing half-truths to influence public opinion and setting up hacks and stings to exert pressure on governments or organisations they want to bring to heel.
The world wide web is not as safe as you might think.