How cyber security threats hurts local businesses, personal finances

By Aubrey Turner
For the Prosper Press
Cybersecurity employees at work.

Recently, cybersecurity experts from Microsoft and the  RAND Corporation met virtually  to discuss hacker prevention for individuals and businesses.  One of the main points of this discussion was how to spot misinformation from foreign agents because as technology evolves, the attack threat continues to change.   

Marek Posard, Todd Helmus, and William Marcellino from the RAND Corporation researched cyber conflict and foreign interference in American life and politics. 

“Russia and other countries are using tactics developed in the Cold War to disrupt America's cyber life,” Posard said.  “The hackers find what is a conflict point in American society and use hackers to amplify more and more extreme views to encourage conflict.  The point is to divide the country and it seems to be working.”

He said they studied Twitter information about the 2020 election and found there were two types of hacker accounts that are interacting with citizens using the social media platform. 

“One type of group is called trolls," Helmus said. "They pretend to be Americans who interact with people and encourage them to become more extreme in their views.  They will have a profile picture here in America, have a lot of information about a specific part of the country, but are actually people in Russia.  These folks will target people who believe either liberal or conservative and will work both sides of the aisle.”  

“The second type of account is a ‘bot’ account,” Helmus said.  “This will be an account that has one less than the maximum number of followers and will start a new trend on Twitter just to get attention focused in a certain direction.  These bots are once again targeting people with a specific ideology, either liberal or conservative, and attempting to get the attention farther to the extreme.  The purpose is just the same as was used in the Cold War: it is easier to disrupt life here if we are more divided than unified.”   

There are a few solutions available to users to protect against these types of attacks, and it is useful to both us as social media users and as a community to have correct information. 

“It is difficult for us to find these types of accounts using software,” Helmus said.  “The very best way is for people to report activity that just does not seem right.  Often there will be a slight typo or misspelled word that a person will notice.  Or, sometimes there is a phrase that does not sound right.”   

“Using the reverse image search on Google is a useful way to check the source of an image,” Helmus said.  “The account may claim that it is an image from a BLM march but really it is an image from Venezuela four years ago.  We really want readers to know that they should attempt to fact check and share accurate information.”   

“Additionally, there is a program on Chrome called Link Checker that you can install on your browser,” Helmus said.  “This is a way to see how often that link has been shared and if it seems credible.”

During the conference, RAND Corporation gave information. 

“We really need journalists to write about these topics,” Marcellino said.  “Media literacy is important and helps all of society.  It is not difficult to learn more media literacy but people need to know that there are these tools.  It is important to write about cyber security.  This is a real threat to Americans and, while we recognize that journalists are not responsible for preventing these attacks, they do have a responsibility to report the news.” 

Finally, according to research, the Russian hackers are using anger and fear. 

“Without people feeling strongly about these topics, this information would not be shared,” Helmus said.  “For example, right now we are seeing the hackers write inflammatory information about COVID 19 and vaccinations.  We have been able to track the public getting more divided on this topic as the hackers continue to influence social media.  The more people are able to talk to remain calm and fact check before sharing, the safer we are as a country.”