Russia mobilizes elite cyber warriors: anti-fake news site mocked online


Russia’s foreign ministry has launched a website to debunk fake news, but some social media users critical of the government are unimpressed by its lack of evidence, the BBC reports:

The lack of sophistication also seems at odds with the Kremlin’s reputation for being a master of disinformation and media warfare. The English-language daily Moscow Times compares the foreign ministry’s effort to a playground argument. It tweeted: “‘No YOU’RE fake news,’ Russian foreign ministry screams at reporters in big bold red letters”.

“The Russian foreign ministry has decided not only to produce fakes, but ‘fight’ them,” remarked the Ukraine-based website Stop Fake. Stop Fake was set up in 2014, at the time of the annexation of Crimea by Russia, to “refute disinformation and propaganda about events in Ukraine”.

Russian social media erupted with a certain amount of derision about the whole enterprise, particularly since the link in Russian to the page translated as “publications and refutations,” The New York Times adds.

“So to slap a red stamp and grandly say that something is ‘fake’ — this is what they call refutation these days?” wrote one Russian man on Facebook. A reporter for the English-language Moscow Times asked via Twitter whether he could borrow the big red stamp.

But the Kremlin’s escalation of information warfare is no joke, according to this special report on the Kremlin-backed APT 28 group from The Financial Times.

The Financial Times has spoken to more than a dozen leading professionals with close knowledge of APT 28’s activities — including senior intelligence and military officials, as well as civilian cyber security experts who have first-hand experience of the group’s hacks. Officials in the US, UK, Israel and Germany have all told the FT that they believe APT 28 is run by Russia’s sprawling military intelligence arm, the GRU. Moscow has consistently denied any connection to APT 28…..

Costin Raiu, head of global research at Moscow-based cyber security firm Kaspersky Labs, says APT 28’s resources distinguish it from other hacking groups. What sets it apart, Mr Raiu says, is the number of “zero day” attacks — operations which exploit flaws in software unknown to the manufacturer — that it carries out at a cost to the group of well over $100,000 a time. In 2015, the group carried out six known zero-day attacks.

“Putin and his team are the heirs of the Tsarist, and particularly the Communist secret services,” says Chris Donnelly, founder of the Institute for Statecraft and former adviser to successive Nato secretaries-general. “Their understanding is one of permanent conflict with the west in which information has always been a very important issue. Influence and subversion and the whole issue of what they call active measures, or dirty tricks, anything short of declared war, is there to be run.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu yesterday informed the State Duma that the regime has added a new special unit of information warfare troops to its military.

Cyber space – the new Balkans

Andrei Soldatov, co-author of The Red Web, says the Kremlin has long seen cyber security as part of a broader concept of information warfare, the FT adds.

“They really believe they are under some sort of siege,” Mr Soldatov says. “They believe that they lost the first Chechen war thanks to journalists, so when they are in a crisis, the first thing they need to do is control the information space.”……It is a volatile situation. Real-world tensions between Russia and Nato are running high in militarized zones like the Baltic and the Black Sea.

Cyber space is the new Balkans,” jokes a recently retired senior British general.

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