The Margin of Error War by Richard Spitzer
The 2016 Presidential election exposed the cyber-war waged by the adversaries of the United States.
How did it happen? How did we let it happen? What did we miss?
Cyber-defenses must be developed now to prevent the 2016 cyber-attack from repeating in the 2020 election. But if we don’t understand how our adversaries succeeded, countermeasures will not be effective.
We thought we knew a lot about cyber-war, but our adversaries knew more. We did not recognize the subtle aspects of the new “information-terrorism” war. What exactly did Russia and China do? How did we miss it? What can we do to fight the new cyber-information war?
How could I analyze all the information? We know what happened in the 2016 cyber-attack, but what were the conditions that led to that event ? My practical approach was to reverse engineer the known events and work backwards over the long history of US vs. Russia and China conflicts.
My research process was similar to the crime mysteries from TV, movies and books. The story opens with the discovery of a crime. The detectives investigate the scene, look for clues, motives and possible suspects, backtracks every possible step that led up to the crime
The Margin of Error diagnosis is similar to the criminal investigation, but we are starting with far more information than a typical crime story. We know:
ü The crime: the infiltration of digital news and social media with fake information and hacking of the 2016 presidential election.
ü The perpetrators: the adversaries of the United States, primarily Russia, China and to a lesser extent, Iran and North Korea.
ü The likely motives: the malicious intentions of our adversaries for economic, political and global influence, and to harm the United States and the 2016 presidential election.
ü The obvious weapons used in the crime: mass media, social media, hacking of digital files.
ü All the basics of the crime have been confirmed by the first investigation teams and the U.S. intelligence agencies about the scope and actions of external “meddling” in the U.S. elections.
So, our mystery is not a whodunit, or why they did it, or what weapons were used.
Our mystery is how the cyber- weapons were brought into our space undetected and used so effectively.
The second familiar crime concern – is the perpetrator still at large ? Are we still at risk for another similar crime? The answers are yes.
The Margin of Error War diagnoses the long-term war against the US and the 2016 turning point, when we lost the first epic cyber-battle of the 21st century. Russia, and friends, found the subtle and unrecognized techniques to manipulate the news and voters – right in front of us– to shift political polls, in critical areas, just enough, within the “margin of error”.
The internet has leveled the global battlefields. All combatants now have the same capabilities to wage cyber-war using unregulated digital media. And digital communications technology has advanced far faster than our systems to ensure their safe and legitimate use.
Our adversaries did not have to use the digital media to influence every vote in America, their plan was simpler and easier. The basic strategy had two components that we missed in real-time:
· Aggravate and accelerate every conflict that was already present in the US, to increase divisiveness.
· Change the minds of just 2% of the people, in critical states. The elections in three states, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were each decided by less than 1%. Our adversaries were able to manipulate news and opinions, nudge just enough votes to be undetected, because the shifts in the political polls were “within the margin of error”.
We have one more chance before 2020 to get the cyber-war right.
We have a government and professionals who have the knowledge to develop the hi-tech cyber defenses. But we also need new information defenses that will give us more confidence in the credibility of the news and the providers.
There are regulations for accrediting or inspecting food, airplanes, water, colleges, almost everything in our life to help ensure they are safe and accurately presented. But we have no standards for the critical news that affects our lives. We can develop the standards to make sure that most news and political polls provide the most accurate, reliable and honest information possible.(Yes, can stay within First Amendment rights).Two things we can do now:
· Create an accreditation system for news and information providers. No one will be prohibited from publishing news, but accreditation will be an additional step for sources that want to be acknowledged as willing to meet standards of transparency and legitimacy.
· Develop robust standards for political polling. General practices are currently observed, but they are insufficient to ensure that surveys and political polls are designed and conducted to minimize bias and help make them more comparable. The disclaimer of poll results must be sued recognizing the “margin of error”, is not a safeguard, its an excuse.
You have to judge what you believe about our diagnosis and proposals, but you can’t disagree with the current state of global conflicts. The conflicts are real; the identities of terrorists are not in question. Most of the tools, tactics and actions are documented. This book is about how it happened, how easily it happened, and what we can do while we still have time to combat our adversaries and preserve America institutions and democracy.
Yes, the truth can be more alarming than fiction.
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