Russia: Are they Really That Bad?
July 15, 2017
A lot of people have asked me ‘why can’t we be friends with Russia’ or ‘are the Russians really that bad?’ and ‘why would they hack us like that?’ As a former Naval Officer the answer is obvious to me, but many governments, including my own, have not disclosed details of typical Russian activity. The average person has little or no idea of how Russia interacts with other nations.
As a former Canadian Naval Reserve Officer I was deployed almost exclusively in Canadian waters. Despite staying close to home:
- I know where Russian spy ships patrol near Canadian waters in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans;
- I have encountered Russian ‘merchant ships’ loaded with antennas, engaged in spying;
- I know where and how the Russian seamen steal fish on both coasts;
- I know how Russian ships play ‘chicken’ with Canadian warships, risking collision; and,
- I have encountered Russians that bribed Canadian officials in order to stay in Canadian ports illegally.
I am sure you get the idea. Russians BAD.
The Russian people may be nice, but that is not who I got to meet.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH HACKING AND CYBER SPACE
Those observations were all things I saw. When we add historical events from the Cuba Missile Crisis to the Russian bombers probing American airspace in recent weeks plus spy scandals such as the Anna Chapman spy ring, there is a consistent pattern of behavior.
As the Internet was being developed in the 1990’s, Russian academics began to study it, speculating on how the Internet could be used. A great deal of effort was spent looking at how information could be used or molded. Depending on who you are, you could call this Information Warfare, Propaganda or simply ‘manipulation’. Regardless of what you call it, Russian Academics were publishing papers on their ideas, including on how the State could utilize this capability, while the future President Putin was a KGB officer.
The KGB was the Soviet Union’s spy agency. They were considered highly skilled by their competitors, meaning the American Central Intelligence Agency and the British MI6. The KGB made a practice of using the spy agencies from Soviet satellite states and/or criminals when it did not want to get caught.
As Russian Internet research continued, they developed a concept called ‘Reflexive Control’ or RC. In brief, Reflexive Control is the idea of providing an opponent with information so they make the decision you want them to make. RC is not propaganda. It is more nuanced, designed to a ect the decision making processes of its targets.
With the ascension of Vladimir Putin to Prime Minister of Russia in 1999 and his subsequent rise to President, democratic reforms in Russia have been progressively rolled back. Industries that were becoming decentralized and competitive found that some companies were prosecuted by the government to be rolled back into monopolies. The people controlling those companies could have been described as ‘Robber Barons’ in another era. A common feature of these “Robber Barons” is that they toed the Government/Putin line and most of them are personally known to the President. It is believed that many of the industrial barons pay President Putin for his support of their business.
What is Russia doing Today?
Russia remains a ‘haven’ for hackers. Russia has not signed any extradition treaties, so hackers live and operate in relative immunity – as long as they hack targets outside of Russia. Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, fled to Russia to escape prosecution by the United States. There are many individual pieces of malware and ransomware that have Russian roots. Those roots include Russian criminal hacker consortiums such as the ‘Business Club’. The Business Club developed banking malware. One of the reasons they were so successful is that they refined their criminal operation into a series of specialties needed to collect and launder money while evading police. Successors to the Business Club are known as Criminal Unicorns; criminal organizations that have stolen in excess of USD 1 Billion dollars.
There is ample evidence pointing to the Russians having a robust internet organization designed to generate and promote ‘fake news’. There are easily many hundreds of links, possibly thousands of links, between websites, social media accounts and Russian government publishing houses. This is strong evidence that ‘Reflexive Control’ is alive and being practiced by the Russian government.
Did the Russians ‘hack’ the U.S. election? Probably. They almost certainly did their best to exercise their ‘Reflexive Control’ concepts, and steer the election results.
Russia continues to be the source of a lot of malware targeting industries from banking to the electrical grid.
Russia continues to be a haven for hackers such as Edward Snowden and provides support for Julian Assange, as well as home to major criminal hacker groups such as the Carbanak gang.
To confirm everything else, Russian ships and aircraft are again playing the same stupid games I first observed in the 1970’s.
So to answer the original questions: Russia bad. Oliver Stone got suckered by a spy (Vladimir Putin). No, I don’t believe we can negotiate with Russia. Yes, Russian hackers are still after our money. No, I don’t want to make friends with Russia.
I’d bet a lot of money that Russia is doing more and worse things than I know about.
Cyber Intelligence Defence Centre