How many headlines have we seen in the past decade that blamed the Russians for cybercrimes in our nation?
Russian hackers and operatives have been accused and caught in various scenarios — the most famous being the Internet Research Agency.
The IRA was and is a company dedicated to creating havoc in our nation.
Not spies, not people in a bunker, but people in an office down the street in St. Petersburg (not the one in Florida) working 9 to 5 doing their part to bring down democracy.
This mysterious organization may still be in business, doing their thing to cause chaos in the Ukrainian war.
If you were to work for this organization — what would that look like?
The core of their mission consists of social media engagement. Training might involve watching American TV (like House of Cards and The West Wing) as well as following American sports and film celebrities. That way you can talk/post like an American.
Employees must meet quotas during their shifts which would be something like, creating a dozen social media accounts (using Twitter, Facebook, and VKontakte — or Russian Facebook) and posting five political posts and 10 nonpolitical posts. At the same time, they must comment and like hundreds of their colleague’s posts.
They were literally Fakenews.com from 2015-2017.
Their job was (literally) to make things up and launch them to the world.
One IRA employee told NPR she wrote a blog about a new video game in the U.S. that had a theme of slavery, with the goal of stirring up anti-U.S. feelings in Russia.
There was no such game, but that is what the job was.
At one time, the IRA office staff had up to 400 team members and was open 24 hours a day. The comp plan was about $800 a month (in U.S. dollars) or just north of 40,000 rubles which is below the average.
The Russians are still at it; it is a cyber “Red Dawn” out there every day; we just don’t see it until it is too late.
Who knows what kind of activities they are doing now that we will uncover in the coming years?
We do know that this month they are hacking the websites of our nation’s airports. We know this because they claimed responsibility for it. This hacking group is called Killnet.
Killnet does not appear to have the resources (or organization) of the IRA, but their goals are similar. They are looking to cause chaos to the enemies of Russia, specifically those entities that side with Ukraine.
Their standard mode of operation is to launch a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) toward their victims, causing their web presence to break down. Earlier targets include the European song contest Eurovision and this month airports in the United States. Fourteen airports were targeted, including one in Florida, Orlando International.
In addition, the design of a DDoS attack is to shut down a machine, website, or network, making it inaccessible. It conducts this by overloading the target with traffic or sending information that causes a crash or failure.
It appears that nothing devious happened in these attacks other than a website shut down for a brief time.
But what if that was the goal? Or what if it was a cyber-distraction to plant some kind of bug elsewhere in the airport’s systems?
We cannot rule anything out when dealing with our enemies as what the Russians are doing goes back to the Cold War. There is no mystery in their tactics, whether targets are elections, government agencies, hospitals, or airports.
It is called ideological subversion — or psychological warfare — where the American public and our way of life is disrupted. A KGB (the former Soviet spy agency) defector explains this long-game approach — to demoralizing a populace that could take up to 20 years.
Listen to Yuri Bezemov discuss this in more detail:
To be clear, not every Russian hacker wants to bring down the capitalist swine of Western civilization, but the Russian government created a sense of commonality among hackers.
Russia gives safe haven to the hackers in their nation with the caveat that Russia (or Russians) will not be targeted.
The U.S. government indicted employees of the Internet Research Agency, but none were prosecuted. They are currently at large in Russia. The Department of Justice discusses the charges as:
The defendants allegedly conducted what they called “information warfare against the United States,” with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust toward the candidates and the political system in general.”
Their tactics in 2022 sound very much like what Bezemov described in 1984 (and Yuri did not even know social media was coming to speed up the process).
Who knows how effective these information wars have had on our society?
Our leaders don’t help. They are the most divided of us all — with a rare exception occurring in our state as President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis put aside their differences for Hurricane Ian recovery efforts.
Nice work gents; more is needed, instead of spitting venom and dirty money ads on TV that no one wants to see from either side, ever.
Bottom line: We are not the most trusting nation, and we seem to have forgotten that it is OK to have different opinions.
As we head into the November elections and the holidays, expect a ramp-up of activity: Hacking, cyber war, propaganda and misinformation dissemination overload.
Sounds crazy? It is and it has been going on for a long time.
As we go forth, let’s all remember the fundamentals:
— We are all Americans and on the same side.
— Load up on your cybersecurity protections and report anything suspicious to the CISA, the FBI, or your IT team.
Be safe out there, Wolverines, I mean, my fellow Americans.
Blake Dowling is the CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected].