We already have the means to significantly curtail fake news campaigns emanating from Russia and elsewhere, but it is up to security practitioners, and especially online content and advertising platforms, to meaningfully employ these measures, according to Dr. Daniel Rogers, CEO and co-founder of dark web data intelligence company Terbium Labs.
Speaking at RSA 2018, Rogers said that just like conventional cyberthreats, disinformation and propaganda campaigns exhibit certain patterns of behavior that can modeled—and this data can be then used to develop a counter response and ultimately effect positive change.
Fake news is just another form of hacking, said Rogers—so much so that it often goes hand in hand with more traditional cyberattacks: "It's all the same thing," Rogers stated. "In fact, [Russia's] Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg used identify theft and bank fraud to commit the disinformation campaign that they were running 2016" against the U.S. electoral process.
But by developing threat models of fake news operations, "we can start to use the rest of our toolbox [and our] threat intelligence," to determine what "exploits" adversaries like Russia are deploying, explained Rogers, "which then tells us what we need to patch. Now, they're not technical patches, but they're still patches in the vernacular of information security—the interventions that we can make to start heading this stuff off at the pass."
Rogers said that some of the most effective countermeasures include publicly calling out instances of fake news when they happen, and promoting and perpetuating the use of non-partisan fact-checking organizations such as Politifact and FactCheck.org.
But to really put a dent in disinformation efforts, ad and content platform providers will need to step up to the plate. Rogers called for content platforms and social media services like Facebook to step up their efforts to eradicate bots that post incendiary comments and false information, to enforce hate speech policies, and to not share user data with unscrupulous organizations or countries. He also urged ad platforms to reject websites that perpetuate fake news and "start to only support quality sites that are trnasparnt about their strategy and that are not obviously egnaged in junk news content propagation."
"We've seen this kind of situation in the past where technology vendors have claimed to remain neutral... when extremism was on the rise, and as they say, history doesn't repeat but it sure does rhyme," said Rogers. "We're in a time where we have to take a side, and if we don't then the future of the internet as we know it is going to be in jeopardy."