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Posts Tagged ‘Maghreb’

Tweets Like Weapons

July 27, 2011 2 comments

Thanks to Andrea Zapparoli Manzoni for suggesting the original concept of Consumerization of Warfare and this update.

If the Cyberspace is the fifth domain of war, social media are likely destined to became the major sub-domain.

In a previous post we defined “Consumerization of Warfare” the growing use of consumer technologies such as Social Networks and Mobile for Military purposes (such as propaganda or espionage).

The most obvious examples of this trend are represented, on a global scale, by the influence (also recognized by President Obama) that social media had for the Wind of Changes blowing from Maghreb to the Middle East. In this contest they were used for different purposes: for witnessing the real extent of the events (which was a key factor in fostering the Allied intervention in Libya), for virally spreading propaganda and psyops information, and, last but not least, in a strict military context, as a further evidence to “strong authenticate” coordinates for Nato Missile Attacks in Libya.

But this approach is not limited to social media. Mobile devices are the natural companions of social media, so U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, and National Security Agency are just evaluating the use of COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) products for military purposes and is evaluating several different commercially available smartphones and tablets, properly hardened and secured.

In particular, despite privacy and reputation issues, social media have proven to be a powerful device for spreading information. Consider for example a single event: Osama Bin Laden’s death. Tweets dealing with this event averaged 3440 TPS from 10:45 to 12:30pm ET on May 2 2011, reaching a peak of 5106 TPS around 11:00pm ET.

Such a formidable weapon must be fully exploited for defensive and offensive purposes, consequently the newcomer in this warfare is none other than the Pentagon, which is asking scientists to figure out how to detect and counter propaganda on social media networks in the aftermath of Arab uprisings driven by Twitter and Facebook. The US military’s high-tech research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has put out a request for experts to look at “a new science of social networks” that would attempt to get ahead of the curve of events unfolding on new media.

The program’s goal is:

To track “purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation” in social networks and to pursue “counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations,”

according to DARPA’s request for proposals issued on July 14.

The idea to build fake personas to manipulate the social arena is not completely new (and one of the players involved was just the well known HBGary Federal), but this time the scope is pretty much wider, aiming to change the course of events by massive (counter)information campaigns (think for instance to video and images coming from Libya which were crucial to foster the Allied Intervention).

I am not sure Zuckerberg & Co. will be very happy that their creatures are considered, against their will, a battlefield from The Pentagon…

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Mobile Phones Vs Tanks

April 26, 2011 4 comments

Or rather “Tweets like Bullets”… I must confess I was uncertain about the title of this post. At the end the one I chose, although absurd at first view, better describes the role that Mobile Technologies (the so called Mobile Warfare) are playing in the dramatic events of Syria. Only few months ago it would have been absurd to only think to fight a tank with a mobile phone, today, looking at what it is happening in the Middle East (and also to what has happened in the Maghreb), it is an image which goes far beyond the reality, and perfectly describes in few words, much better than any post, the way in which the battles for human rights are being led in the Web 2.0 (or War 2.0) world…

The title of the post came to my mind after viewing this post, which well summarizes the way revolutions are being fought.

(Thanks to Josh Levy for reporting the tweet in this post). The above tweet follows the line of the one I mentioned yesterday:

And both of them (together with other tweets of the same shape appeared today), are dramatically witnessing, once again more than any post, how deeply the Mobile Warfare is acting in Syria.

Mobile Warfare shows, once more, that modern wars are being fought in real battlefields and virtual battlefields in the same time, and if one considers mobile phones as a new kind of weapons (and social networks as the media to propagate PsyOps), one finds for these new weapons the same patterns used for real weapons. As a matter of fact what happens in real battlefields? It often happens that foreign governments interested in changing the tide of the battle, allocate funding  for the revolutions. Instead in virtual battlefields foreign governments spend millions to facilitate the use of the Internet technologies for activists (as I reported yesterday). Moreover in real battlefields close countries to war zones are used to deliver weapons to one of the parties fighting; again in virtual battlefield close countries are used to smuggle “war 2.0” weapons such as satellite phones, cameras and laptops. Not only: while in real battlefields corps of engineers build line of communications, in virtual battlefield corps of (network and security) engineers  build line of mobile communications: this happened in Libya with the backing of Egypt and this is happening in Syria with the backing of Jordan which today enhanced the strength of its mobile network to balance the cut-off of yesterday performed by the Government in order to prevent Mobile Communications the Deraa Governatorate.

In the virtual battlefield there are also sabotage actions: how else to interpret the fact that the Syrian government has been forced to postpone the auction of its third GSM mobile licence due to the political uprisings in the country. The story in itself is really interesting, but there is a point in particular which is worthwhile to mention:

Before the protests started, France Telecom, Turkcell and Etisalat were all in the running to bid for the licence. But, at the end of March Etisalat withdrew its offer with France Telecom and Turkcell both removing their bids at the beginning of April.

Etisalat is the UAE Telco Provider which took part to the hack of Colonel Gaddafi’s Libyana Operator  providing the satellite feed allowing the Free Libyana calls to be routed. Mobile Warfare has always the same patterns regardless of the country in which it acts.

One last consideration: on top of these thoughts (and these tweets) I could not help thinking about the opposite role that mobile technologies and social network play into different regions of the world. While they contribute to maintain stability (and maturity) in mature countries (even if an excessive usage, most of all from younger generations, tends to make people slave and immature), they are playing a crucial role to enhance the level of freedom and awareness in unstable countries. This is what I called The Thin Red Line which marks the political and social impact of the new technologies into our World constantly moving.

The Thin Red Line

April 8, 2011 5 comments

There is a thin red line which links the alleged stability of the so called western world, with the instability of the middle east and it consists once again in the opposite role that mobile technologies and social network play in these two different regions of the world. In few words one might say that these technologies contribute to maintain stability (and maturity) in mature countries, and to enhance the level of liberty and awareness in immature countries.

Few posts ago, I just identified one of the reasons for the instability of the Middle East on the role played by mobile technologies and social networks in feeding the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, essentially contributing to make the younger middle-east generations aware of the discrepancies between their lease of life and that of their occidental peers, and hence acting as a wind capable of propagating at an unprecedented speed the flames of change raised from the Maghreb. In my articles I referred to the effect of these new technologies as Mobile Warfare.

If, for a moment, I turn my head to look at the West I see an opposite situation, unleashing an opposite role for Mobile Technologies and Social Network which, in this context, differently from Middle East, are contributing to maintain social stability, even in a quite complicated economic situation like is the current European situation (and the last events in Greece, Ireland and Portugal are an evident thermometer of the boiling economic situation in the Old Continent). Of course I would not mind to apply the ancient Roman motto “panem et circences” (bread and circuses), luckily for this scope, our society invented football, anyway even if we do not want to bring in football, there are two other factors which, in my opinion, play an important role for our (in)stability: the wish to catch the last tweet or, even better, the last Facebook status update, but also, for most mature generations, the continual rush to the last techno-gadget.

First of all, the rush to tweets or (most of all) status updates is something which affects primarily younger generations (even if the potential of Twitter is pretty much under evaluated in Italy) but, like it or not, it is something which must be kept under serious considerations.

Of course, there are two opposite ways to read this statement: a negative interpretation could lead to think that younger generations are too much addicted to social networks and mobile technologies to the point of neglecting most important problems, on the other hand a positive interpretation could lead to think that social network and mobile technologies allow to share news and information, making them accessible to a greater audience, in formats comprehensible by (and adapted for) different population groups and heterogeneous levels of culture, contributing to create mature citizens. Of course my scope is not to determine which of the two interpretations is the predominant, rather than to highlight, like it or not, the significant role of these media.

Something similar applies if we move to most (im)mature generations, since, also in this case, Social Networks contribute to share information and (in theory) to spread a most mature approach to Society. For this population group an additional factor is involved and it is represented by the rush to the last techno-gadgets which have become a status symbol: nowadays our iPads, iPhones, Android devices, etc. highlight the role of the individual on the society, in a certain manner as a luxury or sport car does, with the difference that the last Android or iPhone is (at least in theory) much more accessible.

If one analyzes this picture from a more global perspective, one finds that mobile technologies and social networks may be assimilated in every way to real weapons: in immature countries they may be used to fight wars for freedom versus authoritarian regimes (as happened in the near past in Maghreb and as happening in Syria or Bahrain), in the same time they may be used in mature countries by wise governments to maintain order and stability, or, unfortunately, also by subtle governments to reduce population to (psychological) servitude.

We know what it means to use “mobile warfare” to fight wars for liberty versus authoritarian regimes: just watch the news and hear the latest events coming from Libya. Very different is the case of mature countries. In these nations, using these (mobile technologies and social networks) weapons to maintain order or stability corresponds to make a wise use of them to keep citizens informed and to create a common mature awareness, using these weapons to reduce population to (psychological) servitude corresponds to use mobile warfare to distract citizens from real social problems and perform large-scale psyops operations. In theory younger population are the most vulnerable to these kind threats even if I must confess, according to my personal experience, that the use of social network is far less wise by the older age ranges that, in turn, seriously risk to be the most vulnerable to an improper use of new technologies by subtle governements.

Corps of (Network and Security) Engineers

March 29, 2011 7 comments

A couple of posts ago, in the article “Tweets Of War”, I discussed about the possibility to use consumer mobile devices and Internet connectivity as a kind of weapons, for instance to tweet the positions of enemy troops in order to address allied bombs as did, for instance by some rebels in Libya (simply go to twitter.com and issue a search for the tweets by #LibyanDictator.

Of course this fact raises the question of the importance of internet connectivity during military actions, and, as a consequence, also of the importance of information security, which may not be limited to “simple” message encryption: as an example, referring to the above mentioned example, we cannot authenticate tweets so we may not exclude a priori that they are spoofed tweets in order to drive the allied bombs towards the wrong target (we might always think to authenticate them with a Comodo Certificate!).

As a matter of fact, maintaining the internet connectivity has become a primary priority, that is the reason why U.S. army, for instance, is thinking to implement appropriate technologies and countermeasures in order to maintain or restore Internet connectivity during military actions. Times change and I would almost say that what was once considered the corps of engineers, today, in a mobile warfare, should be called  Corps of (network and security) Engineers. What the Corps of Engineers do in the real battlefield (build connections and bridges), the Corps of (network and security) Engineers do in the Cyber-battlefield (build internet connections and connectivity bridges).

Strictly speaking, why maintaining the Internet Connectivity is so important? Of course, the main reason is for the purpose of propaganda in terms of “evangelism to the cause”, gathering of the faithful, and why not, foreign public involvement.  We have seen  so far, how much has been important (and keeps to be important) for the winds of change blowing in the Maghreb, the role of mobile technologies and social networks, at the beginning for spreading the movements (also beyond the boundaries) and then to bear witness to the World of what was really happening, in all the cases playing a crucial role for the advent of the Odissey Dawn operation (while I am writing, you only need to go to Twitter for being spectator of the dramatics occurrences in Libya: from the reporting of events to requests for help, doctors, etc.). This role is much more important during the military operations where, typical case, both parties claim real or alleged success in combat operations, or provide each other the responsibility for civilian casualties.

But a closer look shows an even more important factor, apparently secondary, but probably potentially decisive in a situation similar to the one occurring in Libya where you are fighting a civil war between rebels and loyalists. In a similar context the Internet may play a primary role for conveying PsyOps messages, not only to encourage citizens to join the protests, as it is happening in Syria, where Facebook is being used to gather followers to revolt; but also for opposite purposes convincing rebels to disarm and return back to their families without further bloodshed. This does not sounds new since such a similar operation had been attempted from the Egyptian Government (actually with a tragicomic outcome) by overtaking the main mobile operators and flooding their mobile subscribers with propagandistic messages which were supposed to encourage the younger people to support the falling government and abandon the protests (a complete report at this link in Italian). One might say that this is not a new concept (read for instance the following article issued in 2001), the difference is that, in 2011, both the transmission technologies and, most of all, the reception technologies (read mobile devices) are much more sophisticated and spread making this kind of operation really effective if compared to how it could be ten years go.

Of course there is a further dramatic question to be addressed for psyops messages propagated through the Internet, and it is the one pertaining to information security, some aspect of which I have already addressed in this post. On one hand, whatever message is transmitted through the Internet may be suitable to man-in-the middle attacks and hence hacked if not properly secured throughout the propagation process: hacking in this case would correspond, for instance, to alter, if not invert, the content. What if the above mentioned tweets were spoofed providing false coordinates? Maybe am I flying with the fantasy if I say that the authors could have negotiated a priori with the recipients some predefined semantics with which to transmit the messages.

On the other hand, it is likely that the Corps of (Network and Security) Engineers will not have to worry about only to establish and maintain the internet connectivity in military operations, but also to face, in a cyber-battlefiedl, enemy malware weapons and/or jamming of Denial-Of-Service tools specifically conceived to attack psyops sources at the root (it is appropriate to say!) in order to make them unusable. In any case, they will not have to underestimate in any way  the impact of hacking from a psyops perspective (in favor or against, (just think of echo raised from the recent  Libyan TV hacking).

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