Securing Democracy Dispatch

December 10, 2018

Our Take

ASD’s Authoritarian Interference Tracker is now live! The Tracker catalogs over 400 incidents of Russian government interference in 42 countries since 2000. You can explore the tracker here. You can also watch ASD’s event that launched the tracker here.

ASD Director Laura Rosenberger discussed growing Russian interference and the need for improved multilateral coordination to defend against it in Axios: “Getting ahead of the threat will therefore require Euro-Atlantic institutions to develop robust multilateral mechanisms to identify vulnerabilities and to coordinate rapid responses and effective deterrents.”

News and Commentary

Released emails raise additional questions over Facebook data policies: The U.K.’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee released a previously sealed trove of internal Facebook emails and documents this week. According to Motherboard, the emails “show that Facebook’s design was always to collect as much data as possible in a way that favored Facebook the most,” that profit factored heavily into many of the company’s decisions, and that access to user data became a bargaining chip for certain “whitelisted” companies and rivals. Furthermore, Facebook made it difficult for users to find information regarding changes that allowed the company to access their call logs and text messages. Following the release of the emails, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called for more action against the company: “These new documents show clearly that Facebook failed to heed their consent decree agreement and basic standards of privacy. The FTC must act decisively and vigorously to end this consistent pattern of negligence and disregard for consumer privacy and legal orders.” (Recode, Motherboard, Vox, BBC, The Verge)

Questions over Google’s “Filter Bubble” resurface before Dec. 11 testimony: Google CEO Sundar Pichai is set to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on December 11 on the company’s “data collection, use and filtering practices.” In addition to Google’s plans to build a censored search engine in China, Pichai will likely be asked about a DuckDuckGo study released on December 4 which found that users were shown personalized Google search results when searching for the exact same phrases, even when logged out or in private browsing mode. The results indicate that Google’s search algorithm filters results for users based on information collected about them, feeding them information that reinforces preconceived notions even when they are trying to avoid a filter bubble. (Reuters, DuckDuckGo, House Judiciary Committee, TechCrunch)

Czech Security Information Service reveals espionage campaign targeting Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Czech Security Information Service (BIS) released a report alleging that the Russian FSB had access to the emails of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) from 2016 until 2017. The alleged attackers were able to covertly gather large amounts of correspondence, focusing on the mailboxes of top MFA officials. BIS also attributed a “brute-force” attack on email logins at the MFA to the Russian military intelligence agency’s (GRU) APT28/Sofacy hacking group; BIS did not comment on whether this approach was successful. (BIS report, The Register)

In Other News:

– At the request of U.S. law enforcement, Canadian authorities arrested Chinese Huawei Technologies’ CFO for extradition to the U.S. on allegations of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

– The National Republican Congressional Committee was allegedly hacked during the 2018 midterm election campaign cycle.

The Verge explains how the recent “yellow vets” movement in France was organized primarily on Facebook. (See Hamilton 68 Section below for additional analysis)

– According to Buzzfeed, a fake Facebook account tried to recruit migrants to join the migrant caravan into the United States from Central America.

Wired released a summary of an investigation into digital trolls in Bulgaria, the Philippines, and 27 other countries – all running Facebook pages targeting American troops and veterans with political propaganda.

– The European Union proposed a plan to combat disinformation before next year’s European Parliament elections.

– The National Endowment for Democracy’s first Power 3.0 podcast features a discussion on the Chinese Communist Party’s influence and interference activities in democracies.

– The Council for Foreign Relations published a blog post describing how authoritarian countries export surveillance tools to smaller states on a global scale.

– Clues left behind by the Marriott hackers suggest they were working for Chinese intelligence services.

– Britain will suspend its top tier golden visas in an effort to tackle money laundering, affecting, among others, “Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern oil barons to newly-minted Chinese entrepreneurs.”

– Slovakia expelled a Russian diplomat for espionage.

Hamilton 68 dashboard

Accounts tracked by the Hamilton 68 dashboard last week focused heavily on the “yellow vest” protests in France, propelling hashtags such as “giletsjaunes,” “yellowvests,” and “macron” to the top of the dashboard. There is no evidence that Kremlin-oriented accounts played any role in organizing the protests. As in the past, pro-Kremlin actors have instead seized on a legitimate domestic movement to amplify narratives of discord and chaos, and to paint the West in a negative light.

Quote of the Week

“Malicious actors can and unfortunately do spread and amplify disinformation. Russia is one of the chief purveyors of these dark arts.”

Julian King, European Commissioner for the Security Union, December 10, 2018

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.