New cyber battlefront opens in 21st Century

Austin Lomard
In Motion Staff Writer

In May 2009, Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, then head of United States Strategic Command, stated that “the law of armed conflict [would] apply to this domain,” in regards to how the U.S. military would respond to cyberattacks originating from foreign states.

In that interview, Gen. Chilton mused that “We’re getting better and better at our defenses and so the capabilities to come at our networks are going to require more sophisticated efforts.”

Eight years later, the United States continues to struggle with the question of how to enforce measures to address cyber warfare.

Today, the United States is besieged. This time, not by the guns, bombs and tanks of conventional warfare, nor the threat of nuclear weaponry of a post WWII era, but by the espionage that characterized the cold war — the abusive Internet cyberattacks of account hacking and malware that experts theorized about in the 2000s.

On Sept. 6, Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos released a statement detailing 3,000 ads and 470 inauthentic accounts removed due to violation of site policies. He also shared the results with congressional investigators. Facebook’s analysis, he stated, “Suggests these accounts and pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.” Ads outlined in his statement “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

In response to Facebook’s announcement, Twitter released a blog post from its Public Policy account on Sept. 28, saying that the company had suspended 201 Twitter accounts linked to accounts Facebook shared in its own security review. Among these was the user @TEN_GOP and its alternate account, @ELEVEN_GOP, outed by Russian investigative reporters, as a Russian troll posing as a the “Unofficial Twitter of Tennessee Republicans.”

Many know the twitter account @TEN_GOP as the propagator of the infamous tweet claiming that an image of a 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Championship parade was, in fact, a massive crowd of supporters waiting for President Trump’s Phoenix rally in August 2017.

The president himself later retweeted and thanked twitter account @10_gop, a new account claiming to be the alternate account of suspended accounts @TEN_GOP, @ELEVEN_GOP and @RealTen_gop for their support on Sept. 19.

Unconventional Russian attacks on America have also taken less subtle forms. Various state secession movements have been uncovered as being backed by the Kremlin. One of the Facebook accounts that was struck from the site as a result of the investigation was “The Heart of Texas,” a Page that garnered 250,000 followers and attempted to organize real-world rallies to support the cause of Texan secession before it was shut down by Facebook.

These are but a handful of many other classic and diabolical cyber attacks linked to the former Soviet Union. The evidence is clear — we are witnessing a Russian blitzkrieg focusing on the fronts of classic cyberwarfare, but more importantly, a media front that has never been fully explored.

And we are struggling to respond to it. Because of their novelty, we have no precedents on how to combat or deter such attacks. The next decade necessitates cyberwarfare deterrence to be explored more thoroughly. Yhsy means the U.S. government and people will be walking a precarious line between efficacy in battling new threats and threats of self-destruction should they respond twith too heavy a hand.

Our future’s best minds in information security and law have their work cut out for them.