Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Microsoft Discovery of Russian Republican Hacking: Revealing or Marketing?

The NY Times and other publications ran a story “New Russian Hacking Targeted Republic Groups, Microsoft Says” (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/21/us/politics/russia-cyber-hack.html, which is also a photo source.) Digging a bit I found an original source from Microsoft see: http://bit.ly/2Mp5wgT, another photo source).

The lead for that story is “We are taking new steps against broadening threats to democracy” which is an entry in Microsoft on the Issues, The Official Microsoft Blog. That entry replete with informative hotlinks, addresses how the US general election in 2016 and the May 2018 French presidential elections were tampered with.

Microsoft goes on to describe that “Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) successfully executed a court order to disrupt and transfer control of six internet domains created by a group widely associated with the Russian government and known as Strontium, or alternatively Fancy Bear or APT28.”

As a software superhero, Microsoft is using its powers only for good and will provide Microsoft AccountGuard, “state-of-the-art cybersecurity protection at no extra cost to all candidates and campaign offices at the federal, state and local level, as well as think tanks and political organizations we now believe are under attack. The technology is free of charge to candidates, campaigns and related political institutions using Office 365.” (Emphasis added by the Blog Writer)

Interestingly enough, a search of the Microsoft website for “AccountGuard” (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/search/result.aspx?q=AccountGuard) pulls up only two results, neither of which relates to the product noted above. Check out the screenshot.

What does this all mean? There are two key takeaways:

1.     Stronger security can be a marketing advantage if properly used to buoy a product’s perceived level of security. Microsoft is facing increasing competition from Google’s G-Suite as large organizations, especially government organizations and schools move away from Office.
2.     The Russians have clear guidance on the purpose of cyber influence. They understand how to blend and bend technology to alter the information people see and to influence their votes.

As to the second point, it appears to me that the US has adopted a version of Henry Stimson’s “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail” which effectively killed SIGINT by hobbling our Cyber Influence efforts because “Nations don’t interfere with the politics of other nations to support their own goals and objectives”.

Monday, August 13, 2018

PSYOP Support to California Wildfires

I was deployed as a Red Cross Public Affairs Officer as a part of the relief efforts at the Mendocinco California Complex Fires. This was the largest wildfire in California history. As of 7 AM today, 12 August 18, the fire burned 344,890 acres, destroyed 147 residences, damaged 13 more and still threatens 1,025 structures (see: http://www.fire.ca.gov/current_incidents/incidentdetails/Index/2175).
Here’s the bottom line up front: local media, especially FM radio is the most trusted source of information and Social Media is a cesspool.

In walking through the Red Cross shelters I learned that the most popular source of information was KPFZ radio from Lakeport, CA (see: http://kpfz.org/). One evening I called in as the Red Cross Public Information Officer. I was on the air for 15 minutes of live call radio. At the time the fire was still quite active and we had 6 shelters running which accommodated over 500 people on the evening of 4 August.

Listeners were candid and overall were somewhat surprised to have information straight from the source. The next day I went to the station and spent 45 minutes live fielding questions and I called in a couple of times since.

I was interviewed by three different TV crews from two different San Francisco’s TV channels and did a number of phone interviews, including the NY Times. You can see my quote in the article at: https://nyti.ms/2Mikvs5.

While I was working with the ‘traditional’ media, my colleagues were dealing with Social Media, primarily FaceBook. Unfortunately my experience last week confirmed what we already know. Anyone can say anything, and perhaps more importantly, they will be believed by more people than you would expect without any regard to the truth or even the plausibility of what’s said.

One of the Red Cross Shelters was at the Twin Pine Casino, a facility run by the Pomo Indians in Middletown, CA (see: www.twinpine.org). This meant that not only were the Federal, State and County governments involved, but tribal government as well.

While I won’t speculate on why government officials visit, but you can get a feel for their popularity in this picture of Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).

This posting represents the essence of my week – if you have specific questions, or topics you would like me to explore, let me know. For those of you who are interested, you can read the DoD doctrine in JP 3-28 Defense Support of Civil Authorities, 31 July 2013 (see: http://bit.ly/2P2vaFT)


Thursday, August 2, 2018

POVA Reunion/POA Rendezvous - What Did You Miss?

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending July 19 – 22 in Cleveland along with our brothers and sisters across the PSYOP Community. I thought it appropriate to write this week’s Blog posting on the event for the benefit of those of you who couldn‘t make it.

First of all we learned that the PSYOP Regiment has a Commandant. In ‘the olden days’, we always thought of the Commandant as the Commanding Officer of the training center or school we were attending. Colonel Robert Curris, former 4th POG CDR is our current Commandant residing at SWC or more properly the US Army Special Operations Center of Excellence.

His role as lead of our Regiment is to shepherd the branch in such a way as to provide the optimal force to support the national defense mission. This includes the critical areas of training and doctrine among others.

It was more than enlightening to learn what was going on in PSYOP today from someone who is making it happen. Make no mistake there are ongoing challenges across the force particularly in recruiting and fighting the cyber influence battle, however, the Regiment continues to move forward.

I was also able to rekindle some old friendships with colleagues from the 2nd PSYOP Group who I haven’t seen in 20 years (to be kind). As is the case with most military friendships, connections were renewed instantly and it was good to catch up.

We expanded our horizons by learning about PSYOP from the Australian perspective from Derrill de Heer, a life member of POVA. (who you can learn more about at: https://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/australian-centre-for-the-study-of-armed-conflict-and-society/mr-derrill-de-heer)

POVA’s progress is nothing short of remarkable. We have over 400 active members with almost 150 life members across the US active, reserve and veteran force along with a growing number of international members.

The PSYOP Association (POA) hosted an educational half day program and launched their new Mobile App which you can get at: https://webapp.mobileappco.org/m/POAAPP and checkout their website at: http://psyopassociation.org/

POA also extended an invitation to Cleveland’s Vietnamese community who were very well represented at the event as well.

We also took advantage of seeing some of the sights in Cleveland such as the world famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame including a tour of Johnny Cash’s bus and a lunch cruise on Lake Erie on the Nautica Queen.

See you at Fort Bragg in 2020!