In this episode, I interview Thomas Rid about his illuminating study of Russian disinformation, Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare. It lays out a century of Soviet, East European, and Russian disinformation, beginning with an elaborate and successful operation against the White Russian expatriate resistance to Bolshevik rule in the 1920s. Rid has dug into recently declassified material using digital tools that enable him to tell previously untold tales – the Soviets’ remarkable success in turning opposition to US nuclear missiles in Europe into a mass movement (and the potential shadow it casts on the legendary Adm. Hyman Rickover, father of the US nuclear navy), the unimpressive record of US disinformation compared to the ruthless Soviet version, and the fake American lobbyist (and real German agent) who persuaded a German conservative legislator to save Willy Brandt’s leftist government. We close with two very different predictions about the kind of disinformation we’ll see in the 2020 campaign.


Continue Reading Episode 312: Russia’s online disinformation has a 100-year history

David Kris, Paul Rosenzweig, and I dive deep on the big tech issue of the COVID-19 contagion: Whether (but mostly how) to use mobile phone location services to fight the virus. We cover the Israeli approach, as well as a host of solutions adopted in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and elsewhere. I’m a big fan of Singapore, which produced in a week an app that Nick Weaver thought would take a year.

In our interview, evelyn douek, currently at the Berkman Klein Center and an SJD candidate at Harvard, takes us deep into content moderation. Displaying a talent for complexifying an issue we all want to simplify, she explains why we can’t live with social platform censorship and why we can’t live without it. She walks us through the growth of content moderation, from spam, through child porn, and on to terrorism and “coordinated inauthentic behavior” – the identification of which, evelyn assures me, does not require an existentialist dance instructor. Instead, it’s the latest and least easily defined category of speech to be suppressed by Big Tech. It’s a mare’s nest, but I, for one, intend to aggravate our new Tech Overlords for as long as possible.


Continue Reading Episode 308: Location, location, location. And the virus.

That’s the question I debate with David Kris and Nick Weaver as we explore the ways in which governments are using location data to fight the spread of COVID-19. Phone location data is being used to enforce quarantines and to track contacts with infected people. It’s useful for both, but Nick thinks the second application may not really be ready for a year – too late for this outbreak.

Our interview subject is Jason Healey, who has a long history with Cyber Command and a deep recent oeuvre of academic commentary on cyber conflict. Jay explains Cyber Command’s doctrine of “persistent engagement” and “defending forward” in words that I finally understand. It makes sense in terms of Cyber Command’s aspirations as well as the limitations it labored under in the Obama Administration, but I end up wondering whether it’s going to be different from “deterrence through having the best offense.” Nothing wrong with that, in my view – as long as you have the best offense by a long shot, something that is by no means proven.


Continue Reading Episode 307: Is privacy in pandemics like atheism in foxholes?

We interview Dmitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike on the company’s 2019 Global Threat Report, which features a ranking of Western cyber adversaries based on how long it takes each of them to turn a modest foothold into code execution on a compromised network. The Russians put up truly frightening numbers – from foothold to execution in less than twenty minutes – but the real surprise is the North Koreans, who clock in at 2:20. The Chinese take the bronze at just over 4 hours. Dmitri also gives props to a newcomer – South Korea – whose skills are substantial.


Continue Reading Episode 252: In the cyber adversary Olympics, it’s Russia for the gold and North Korea (!) for the silver

In this episode, I interview Chris Bing and Joel Schectman about their remarkable stories covering the actions of what amount to US cyber-mercenary hackers. We spare a moment of sympathy for one of those hackers, Lori Stroud, who managed to go from hiring Edward Snowden to hacking for the UAE in the space of a few years.


Continue Reading Episode 249: Black swans, black ops, BlackCube, and red herrings

The theme of this week’s podcast seems to be the remarkable reach of American soft power: Really, we elect Donald Trump, and suddenly everybody’s trolling. The Justice Department criminally charges a Russian troll factory’s accountant, and before David Kris can finish explaining it, she’s on YouTube, trolling the prosecutors with a housewife schtick. She’s not alone. Faced with the news that President Trump is using a commercial iPhone for many of his calls – and, Nate Jones points out, getting tapped by China, Russia, and others as a result – China has a suggestion that scores at the top of the POTUS Troll Scale. Tim Cook goes to Europe to troll Android – and me – with a speech that touches all my buttons: Europhilia, Apple sanctimony in pursuit of profit, and blind enthusiasm for privacy regulation. And when the Belgians ask for British help investigating a suspected GCHQ hack of a Belgian ISP, as David and I discuss, the British respond with what can only be described as understated trolling.


Continue Reading Episode 237: I’d Like to Teach the World to Troll, in Perfect Harmony!