Like it or not, we are all citizens of cyber-world. Well, citizens in the sense that we live within the city limits of a digital domain, NOT citizens in the sense that we have much power over, or influence on, or voice in how that most undemocratic domain conducts its operations.
Living in the 21st Century means having our personal lives constantly penetrated and shaped by digital communications, digital data-keeping, and our everyday digital infrastructure, all of which empower digital forces that are as secretive and self-interested as they are ubiquitous and all-powerful.
3 recently revealed incidents of digital hacking illustrate the point.
Equifax, one of 3 credit-scoring companies in America, which collects virtually everything there is to know about you, from the state of your wallet to the state of your health, has been hacked, reportedly by Russian criminals. All the intimate details of more than one hundred million people have been laid bare for possible exploitation.
Russian digital warriors are also accused by the big cyber-security firm Symantec of breaking and entering, vandalizing and stealing stored information from the power grids of the US, Ukraine, Switzerland and Turkey.
Symantec suggests the Russian cyber-spooks are treating power systems the same way they treated America’s electoral infrastructure in the 2 years leading up the our 2016 Presidential elections, as a kind of big buffet table. The Russians, Symantec says, have not just been nibbling at this power grid, tasting that utility command structure, but they’ve been acquiring the kind of knowledge that might enable you to poison half the dishes on the long table, with no one being the wiser.
America’s intelligence services have said Russian hackers tried to pervert our 2016 electoral process. Facebook recently admitted it had been abused by Russian agents who used the social medium to spread political lies and anti-social attitudes. Experts say Twitter got played the same way, and, they say, should be following Facebook’s example in trying, at least, to clean up some of the mess, but irresponsibly, isn’t.
Even though, one analyst says, there is evidence to suggest that Russian trolls tried to plant ideas in Donald Trump’s head by Tweeting direct responses to his Twitter activities.
The NY Times has been reporting that the intelligence services may have been playing down the real damage Russian meddling may have done on election day, and more important, the Times team led by reporter Nicole Perlroth says, neither local, state nor Federal election officials are even willing to do a damage assessment, much less plan to prevent a repeat.
And then, there’s the still wide open question of whether the Trump campaign, which analysts agree benefited from the Russian interference in the election, actually colluded with the Russians to elect Donald J Trump President.
Shane Harris is a senior writer for the Wall Street Journal covering intelligence, national security, and cyber security. He is based in Washington, DC.
He has been covering the rise of political cybercrime and its role in the 2016 elections. Shane’s 2014 book @War was considered both pioneering and authoritative on the subjects of cyberwar, cybercrime and cyber security.