FireStarter: Truth and (Dis)InformationBy Mike Rothman
We all have our own truth. Think about it: two people can see exactly the same thing, but remember totally different situations. Remember the last argument you had with your significant other. It happens all the time. You see the world through your own lens, and whatever you believe: that’s your truth.
But when someone questions that truth, even the strongest of us may falter. That’s the secret of disinformation, which creates deception and distrust, and can subvert any collective. Two recent data points push me to believe we are seeing a well-orchestrated disinformation campaign against the folks Josh Corman calls chaotic actors.
You see, these loosely affiliated collectives of cyber-vigilantes are causing significant damage within the halls of power. And it seems the powers that be are concerned. To be clear, I don’t know anything specific. I’m basically speculating based on the ton of information I consume about security, making a living matching patterns, and a lot of spy novels.
When I see a very specific gauntlet laid down by someone within NATO, basically claiming that Anonymous will be infiltrated, it’s interesting. Then I see another story which seems kind of wacky. The Guardian reports that 1 in 4 so-called hackers are actually informants. Gosh, that seems like a lot. To the point of being unbelievable. But combining these two data points gets very interesting.
You see, by definition these chaotic actors are geographically dispersed. They communicate via secure(ish) mechanisms that obscure true identities, for obvious reasons. They have some kind of vetting process for folks who want to join their groups. Aaron Barr of HBGary Federal can tell you a bit about what happens when you are caught as an unwanted interloper. But at some point, they have to trust each other in order to put their plans into action. But disinformation breeds distrust. So it makes sense that, lacking any direct means to take down these collectives, a disinformation campaign would be next.
Basically NATO has specifically called out Anonymous. The FBI allegedly has thousands of informants at all levels of all the online syndicates. Then throw in the high-profile takedowns of a few botnets recently, the arrest of some Spanish guys allegedly involved with Anonymous, and the reality that the hacker of all hackers, Albert Gonzalez, was an informant – and maybe the story isn’t so unbelievable, is it?
So basically the chaotic actors start wondering if the folks they’ve been working with can be trusted. Maybe they are informants. Maybe they’ve already been infiltrated. Maybe the traitor is you. You see, whether the informants actually exist is besides the point.
I do believe there are active efforts to penetrate these groups, since a public execution is another aspect of a psychological campaign to breed distrust. But I figure these efforts aren’t going too well. If the informants existed, the powers that be wouldn’t talk, they’d act. No?
Am I nuts? Been reading too much Ludlum? Let me know what you think…
PS: My old colleague Brian Keefer (@chort0) tweeted some similar thinking on Friday. Unfortunately I was tied up with our CCSK training and couldn’t engage in that discussion. But I wanted to recognize Brian drawing a similar conclusion…
Photo credit: “disinformation is king” originally uploaded by ramtops