Cyberwar PsyOps: #Tunisia, #Egypt: Regimes Deposed by Twitter?
The headlines today tell the tale of information warfare and its disruption of Egypt. Even by cutting nearly all communication, the groundswell of communication continued until the final capitulation of Hosni Mubarek.
From STRATFOR's Red Alert analysis:
Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivered the following statement Feb. 11:
…President Mubarek has decided to step down…
Suleiman's statement is the clearest indication thus far that the military has carried out a coup led by Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. It is not clear whether Suleiman will remain as the civilian head of the army-led government. Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of ruling the state via a council of army officers. The question now is to what extent the military elite will share power with its civilian counterparts.
At the beginning of 2011, cyberwarfare being recognized conceptually gained momentum. In Tunisia this occurred mostly with attacks aimed at the obstruction of information. Often information warfare/cyberwarfare tactics discussed in the Cybercrime Corner were used by protesters and the Egyptian and Tunisian governments. We discuss some of the results today.
Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) for Cyberwarfare
Social media companies were initially blockaded by the government, yet the speed of application workarounds actually forced the government of Egypt to completely disconnect the Internet. BDA: complete Internet cessation.
BDA: Women and Social Media inside #Egypt
Women played a more important role than ever in maintaining communications through social media. The article Cyberwar PsyOps: Islamic suffrage and social media was plain to point out the advantages:
There is a major change going on within the Arab and Islamic world right now, and technology companies that realize that women are going to be taking a larger part in online communities will be ahead of the game. Here's how this all rolls together.
Other reports mentioned that the groundswell of protest may have been sourced back to a YouTube video composed by an Egyptian woman noted here:
Asmaa Mahfouz (recorded video), This is the video that Asmaa Mahfouz recorded to inspire Egyptians to demonstrate in support of political and social change. It went viral across the internet. The video is being credited as what helped to incite the Egyptian uprising.
As Mona Eltahawy, an award-winning Egyptian-born journalist explained, this time around, Twitter, Facebook, and text messages were widely used to encourage women to take precautions.
…The protests -- and these methods of protecting the women in them -- are also taking place amid concentrated efforts to reduce all types of gender-based violence, especially using new media.
BDA: Psy-Ops supporting the protests, command and control, media manipulation / distribution. Also expect for women to look hard at who the next leaders will be and have a voice as compared to Rosie the Riveter in Cyberwar PsyOps: Islamic suffrage and social media .
BDA: Private Corporate Involvement
Western corporations lent support through innovative technology workarounds. Cell phone service was disrupted as predicted since workarounds made voice communications just as ‘dangerous' to the regime as text or data.
Google and Twitter provided innovative technology to enable #Egypt Tweets by voice. With the next layer of communication being the cellular phone, will Egypt shut down its phone system as well as internet? – Cyberwar PsyOps: Speak to Tweet
Of note: certain vendors, such as Blackberry, remained online due to distributed server hosting and other contractual differences. This could be key for examining as a strategy for any CIO who partners with other Middle Eastern countries which could be next to fall.
BDA: External, untouchable bases of communication support aided protestor objectives of information distribution (Psy-Ops). We discussed corporate involvement in political matters in Hired Guns: What's in the name CyberPMC or CyberPSC.
BDA: Online Activists
DDoS attacks coordinated through #AnonOps may have played a small part, however the penalties in the home countries of those digital attackers are severe: felony within the U.S. and the FBI is hot on the case of many of these hactivists.
Of a particular interest is the role of DDoS on limited infrastructure companies. Tunisia apparently had just one internet service provider. The #Egypt #AnonOps tweets shifted fire once Egypt's internet had been severed.
BDA: The hive mind DDoS attack as a form of social protest has been validated, at least socially if not legally. CIOs should expect more attacks of this type to occur and prepare for countering these threats based on news stories about your partnering companies, as well as news stories about your government clientele.
BDA: Insider Threat to Online Activists
Cyberespionage/sabotage also played a part. One such activist, Th3J35t3r, raised awareness of the matter in a definitive manner. DDoS attack tools were compromised by this enterprising cyber minuteman, known as Th3J35t3r – The Jester, who sabotaged the preferred tool of the Anonymous crowd. Global activists were affected: arrests made in the UK and U.S. may have been aided by the broken DDoS tool.
BDA: Since establishing attribution is the single Achilles heel of any cyber attack, the risk factor was raised. The true BDA remains in the trust elements which were broken within that organization. More at Cyberwarfare Roshambo: th3j35t3r Profiled.
BDA: Loss of Face and Corporate Retaliation
Western and Middle East philosophy has one difference which is key to understand: the cultural consequences of the “loss of face,” and the particular restrictions on free speech.
Since loss of face was covered in a recent article, the corollary of retaliatory defacement attacks against corporations could signify potentially related cyberwarfare psychological operations.
This should put defacement into proper perspective: Even though it may be perceived as internet graffiti, to other parts of the world any loss of face is much more value-added. I repeat this here because it is critical to understand that motivation and intent behind an attack are often hard to articulate.
STRATFOR had these words of caution going forward:
Sustaining its hold over power while crafting a democratic government will be the biggest challenge for the military as it tries to avoid regime change while also dealing with a potential constitutional crisis.
At a certain point, the opposition's euphoria will subside and demands for elections will be voiced. The United States, while supportive of the military containing the unrest, also has a strategic need to see Egypt move toward a more pluralistic system.
I hope for the best, and expect to plan for the contingencies.