At a glance.
- ChatGPT and the potential for deep fakery and misinformation at scale.
- Update on Russian cyber activity against Poland.
- "Everything is very good."
- Russia says it's open to negotiations. So does Ukraine.
- Ukrainian and Russian negotiating positions.
- Complaining about the Ukrainian cyber threat, and of Western "Russophobia."
- Pseudoscience as backward-striking misinformation.
- Incommensurable views of information security.
ChatGPT and the potential for deep fakery and misinformation at scale.
OpenAI's ChatGPT, an artificially intelligent chatbot, arrived last month with considerable éclat, offering as it did an unusually effective tool for automating chat. The apparent ease with which it responds to natural language queries and requests, easily and plausibly, is striking. This obviously offers the prospect of more effective (and more cost-effective) customer service interactions and help functions, for example. It also offers the prospect of automating social-engineering attacks. Axios describes some of the quick preliminary research into this possibility conducted by security firms:
- "Researchers at Check Point Research last month said they got a 'plausible phishing email' from ChatGPT after directly asking the chatbot to 'write a phishing email' that comes from a 'fictional web-hosting service.'"
- "Researchers at Abnormal Security took a less direct approach, asking ChatGPT to write an email 'that has a high likelihood of getting the recipient to click on a link.'"
Thus, unsurprisingly, advanced AI like ChatGPT will almost certainly take its place alongside other deep fake technology used for malign influence.
The technology not only offers the prospect of automating malignancy, but of automating folly. Scientific American, while giving due credit to ChatGPT's fluent plausibility ("frankly mind-boggling") argues that the artificially intelligent chatbot also produces a lot of misinformation, both factual errors and logical solecisms. "They are quite prone to hallucination, to saying things that sound plausible and authoritative but simply aren’t so," the Scientific American essay says. "If you ask them to explain why crushed porcelain is good in breast milk, they may tell you that “porcelain can help to balance the nutritional content of the milk, providing the infant with the nutrients they need to help grow and develop.” Because the systems are random, highly sensitive to context, and periodically updated, any given experiment may yield different results on different occasions. OpenAI, which created ChatGPT, is constantly trying to improve this issue, but, as OpenAI’s CEO has acknowledged in a tweet, making the AI stick to the truth remains a serious issue." (In some ways that last point makes ChatGPT sound even more like us--let those who've never told a whopper be the first to hit ctrl-alt-del.)
Such errors are being called out by others trying out ChatGPT. TradeWinds, for example, has caught out ChatGPT as a fount of misinformation about maritime law. Like any AI, ChatGPT requires a lot of continuous training, and that inevitably raises legal questions about, as the Verge points out, copyright infringement. Ilia Kolochenko, Chief Architect at ImmuniWeb and Adjunct Professor of Cybersecurity & Cyber Law at Capitol Technology University, shared some thoughts on how to understand and address copyright issues in the context of AI training:
“After the global hype around ChatGPT, we may expect a turbocharged growth of similar projects that will massively collect training data from various public sources including websites, libraries, blogs or social networks. Content owners will unlikely welcome the unilateral, silent and unremunerated collection and usage of their creative works – being it a text, music or drawing – for creation of AI that will sooner or later compete with them. In this area, modern intellectual property (IP) law is complex, currently unsettled and thus does not provide a clear answer whether usage of copyrighted content for AI training purposes may constitute an infringement.
"Therefore, content owners, who do not wish to freely share the fruits of their intellectual labor with future tech monopolies, may consider updating their terms of service, expressly prohibiting usage of any content for AI training and any related purposes. In some jurisdictions, breach of this clause may even stipulate liquidated damages of a specific amount per violation. It is important to talk to an experienced lawyer to ensure a proper, context-aware and sufficiently specific wording of the clause to ensure that it will be enforceable in court or law. Thereby, possible disputes over allegedly illicit usage of protectable IP will shift from the foggy realm of contemporary IP law to the well-established body of contract law, giving comparatively tenable protection to IP owners. Of course, detecting and proving violations of the clause may be technically complex and time-consuming, but perfectly doable in many cases. Most importantly, such clause will likely deter unwarranted web scraping and subsequent utilization of the collected data, rather than promoting an open and fair collaboration between IP owners and AI companies. The same tactics may be successfully deployed by software developers by adding a new clause to their software license agreements.
"Regulators and lawmakers should also consider implementing AI legislation that would promote transparency over the provenance of AI training data. For example, large AI companies may be required to disclose their sources of data used for training purposes. Individuals and organizations may also be given new legal rights, somewhat similar to GDPR ones, to restrict usage of their IP for AI training purposes without their consent or adequate remuneration for such usage. Transparency is crucial to safeguard the fair and sustainable development of AI for the benefit of humanity. Overregulation, however, will likewise be counterproductive, so lawmakers may wish to consult with AI experts openly, scholars and entrepreneurs to fairly balance everyone’s interests.”
All of the animadversions about misuse, error, and copyright aside, ChatGPT as it stands today still represents a remarkable achievement, and we'll be following its evolution with interest.
Update on Russian cyber activity against Poland.
The threat group GhostWriter has resurfaced in phishing campaigns against Polish targets, according to authorities in Warsaw. BleepingComputer reports that "the Russian hackers set up websites that impersonate the gov.pl government domain, promoting fake financial compensation for Polish residents allegedly backed by European funds." The goals of the campaign are believed to be intelligence collection and disinformation. The EU has linked GhostWriter to Russia's GRU military intelligence service. Mandiant has also discerned a connection to Belarusian services.
GhostWriter has long specialized in impersonation, especially impersonation of NATO members located along the Atlantic Alliance’s Eastern front, an area in which Russia takes a proprietary interest. The countries there are either former Soviet Republics (like the Baltic states), former members of the Warsaw Pact (like Poland), or former provinces of the old Russian empire (like Finland). A very long historical memory is informing the Russian outlook on the special military operation.
"Everything is very good."
The Russian Media Monitor posted a televised New Year gala that offered a representative piece of what the Kremlin would like the Russian people to believe. The host's short speech, delivered amid a song-and-dance routine that was tasteless and vulgar even by American standards (and American standards of vulgarity and bad taste have always been, we're ashamed to observe, very high indeed) that expressed the regime's implausible line: "My new year's toast will be a bit unusual. During the past year, the West tried to destroy Russia. They didn't realize that in the composition of the world, Russia is the load-bearing structure. Yes gentlemen, like it or not, Russia is expanding." (The host is dressed in a tuxedo from the 1973 senior prom.) Thus Russia is the indispensable nation whose rise and territorial aggrandizement are inevitable. The happy refrain of the song-and-dance number that followed the toast was revelatory: "Everything is very good!"
A more academic take on Moscow's war aims aired on Solovyov's television show. Great nostalgia for the Soviet Union ("the Soviet miracle") is on display, as is the view that the world's greatest atheist and avowedly materialist power (the USSR was officially both) was in fact a spiritual enterprise rooted in a deep belief in a religious afterlife. That's of course incoherent, but incoherence isn't a concern. Historical ignorance and philosophical nonsense are fine, as long as it produces the right sentiment for victory and expansion. But the nostalgia for Stalin and the Soviet project is an unsettling trend, at least as viewed from abroad.
And to return to those New Year's programs, if you're someone who's been an appalled watcher of, say, the Golden Globes or the Oscar ceremonies on American teevee, or maybe you've just stumbled across Barmageddon and asked yourself, what fresh hell is this? ...trust us: as they say in Hollywood, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." Click at your own risk. You're on your own. And, Moscow? The foreigners are laughing at you.
Russia says it's open to negotiations. So does Ukraine.
Neither proposal is likely to result in actual negotiations between the two sides.
In a televised address on Sunday, Russian President Putin said that he was open to negotiations, and that responsibility for failure to reach a negotiated settlement of his war lies with others. "We are ready to negotiate with everyone involved about acceptable solutions, but that is up to them – we are not the ones refusing to negotiate, they are," the Telegraph quotes him as saying. In this Mr. Putin principally blames Western nations that support Ukraine. Russia is, he said, fighting an essentially defensive war. “I believe that we are acting in the right direction, we are defending our national interests, the interests of our citizens, our people. We have no other choice but to protect our citizens. Actually, the fundamental thing here is the policy of our geopolitical opponents which is aimed at pulling apart Russia, historical Russia.” Thus, realistically, Russia is not interested in a negotiated peace, and the US dismissed Mr. Putin's remarks as "disingenuous," saying that Moscow has shown no desire for negotiation.
Still, the Russian president's statement cast him as what passes for the good cop in Moscow. Foreign Minister Lavrov supplied the bad cop. TASS yesterday was authorized to disclose the conditions for peace, as Mr. Lavrov explained them:
"The enemy is well aware of our proposals on the demilitarization and denazification of the [Kiev] regime’s controlled territories, the elimination of threats to Russia’s security that come from there and it includes our new territories [DPR, LPR, Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions]. There is a little left to do - to accept these proposals in an amicable way. Otherwise, the Russian Army will deal with this issue. As for the possible continuance of the conflict, then the ball is on the court’s side of the [Kiev] regime and Washington, which stands behind it. They can put an end at any time to this senseless resistance."
(The interpolations are in the TASS original.) "The point is simple," said Mr. Lavrov, apostrophizing Kyiv. "Fulfill them for your own good." Because Russia cares. So, give us back the territories the Russian Army took, and then lost, or else the Russian Army will take them back again, and maybe more. The bad cop line seems predicated on an inflated view of Russian combat capability that's unlikely to convince most observers, let alone the intended audience in Kyiv.
The AP reports that Ukraine has also proposed a summit in February at which peace might be negotiated. It would be a summit to be held at the UN, moderated by the Secretary General, but Ukraine does not expect any Russian participation. Ukraine's precondition for direct talks with Russia is that Russia first face a war crimes tribunal. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, "Every war ends in a diplomatic way.” He added significantly, however, that combat success also shaped the conclusion of any war. “Every war ends as a result of the actions taken on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.” Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov replied to Foreign Minister Kuleba's proposed negotiations by saying that Russia “never followed conditions set by others. Only our own and common sense.” By "common sense" Russia has recently meant recognition of its sovereignty over the Ukrainian territories it's claimed: Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
Thus negotiations seem unlikely.
Ukrainian and Russian negotiating positions.
The New York Times characterizes both the Russian and Ukrainian negotiating positions as "hard line," and concludes that there's little prospect for peace talks, at least in the near term. Al Jazeera summarizes the Ukrainian position; its characterization is worth quoting in full:
- "Radiation and nuclear safety, focusing on restoring security around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, which is now Russian-occupied."
- "Food security, including protecting and ensuring Ukraine’s grain exports to the world’s poorest nations."
- "Energy security, with a focus on price restrictions on Russian energy resources, as well as aiding Ukraine with restoring its power infrastructure, half of which has been damaged by Russian attacks."
- "Release of all prisoners and deportees, including war prisoners and children deported to Russia."
- "Restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Russia reaffirming it according to the UN Charter, which Zelenskyy said is 'not up to negotiations'."
- "Withdrawal of Russian troops and the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of Ukraine’s state borders with Russia."
- "Justice, including the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes."
- "The prevention of ecocide, and the protection of the environment, with a focus on demining and restoring water treatment facilities."
- "Prevention of an escalation of conflict and building security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic space, including guarantees for Ukraine."
- "Confirmation of the war’s end, including a document signed by the involved parties."
The Russian position has shown little change over the past few months. "The enemy is well aware of our proposals on the demilitarization and denazification of the [Kiev] regime’s controlled territories, the elimination of threats to Russia’s security that come from there and it includes our new territories [DPR, LPR, Kherson and Zaporozhye Regions]," TASS quoted Foreign Minister Lavrov as saying earlier this week. "There is a little left to do - to accept these proposals in an amicable way. Otherwise," he added with an expression of confidence probably not fully shared on the battlefield, "the Russian Army will deal with this issue. As for the possible continuance of the conflict, then the ball is on the court’s side of the [Kiev] regime and Washington, which stands behind it. They can put an end at any time to this senseless resistance." Thus resistance, and not the special military operation itself, is senseless.
Ukraine is recalcitrant, Mr. Lavrov explained (as reported by RT), because President Zelenskyy is under the thumb of the Anglo-Saxons, which is Moscow's view is always a bad thing. “Immediately after the start of the special military operation, Vladimir Zelensky proposed sitting down at the negotiating table. We did not turn it down and agreed to a meeting with his representatives,” he said, adding that the failure of such talks to materialize “demonstrated Zelensky’s complete lack of independence in making important decisions. Already in April, at the behest of the Anglo-Saxons, who were interested in continuing the hostilities, he swiftly wrapped up negotiations and sharply toughened his position.”
Complaining about the Ukrainian cyber threat, and of Western "Russophobia."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov said on Wednesday, as the Russian state news outlet RT reports, that Russia is the victim of “unprecedented external aggression in the information space,” and that Ukraine, backed by the US and the EU, is behind a proliferation and escalation of cyber warfare. He warned that this amounts to a global threat. “Today, it is Russia which is in the crosshairs, and tomorrow it may be any other state that Washington dislikes,” he said.
It's not just Washington, either. France is spreading "Russophobia" and attempting to censor Russian media (like RT, for example). "Moscow is outraged by the new steps taken by Paris aimed at introducing more and more broadcasting bans on Russian media, both on its territory and in the EU as a whole,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. And Finland, which RT feels should have been a better neighbor, has in RT's (and the Kremlin's) view betrayed itself by applying for NATO membership.
There's more than a little special pleading and mendacity at work here, given the decades-long record of Russian security and intelligence services fostering and protecting cyber criminals. Mr. Syromolotov might also read up on the Russian doctrine of deniable hybrid war. Sure, it hasn't worked out well during the present special military operation, but that doesn't change the view that animates his government's statecraft. If Clausewitz famously said that war is the continuation of politics by other means, what's generally been called the Gerasimov Doctrine stands this on its head: politics is the continuation of war by other means. Two essays from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offer a useful appreciation. If anything, they make Russian policy sound more restrained and cautious than it has been. The invasion of Ukraine would seem to have put paid to the notion of Moscow's restraint.
Pseudoscience as backward-striking misinformation.
The nostalgia for Soviet power on display in Russian media seems accompanied by another odd preoccupation of Soviet applied pseudoscience: a conviction that psychic powers could be employed as weapons. Foreign Policy describes how psychic defense has been a feature of Russian thinking about the current war. Conventional influence operations are one thing--they amount basically to marketing in battledress. But a memorandum prepared by the Russian protective service, the Federal Guard Service (FSO) describes measures being taken for psychic defense. "It focuses on psychological preparedness," Foreign Policy writes, "ensuring that FSO officers would have the 'moral and psychological support' needed to resist what the memo calls a potential 'massive ideological attack.' But the Russians aren’t simply worried about the usual wartime propaganda, like sneaky radio broadcasts or underground newspapers. Instead, the Kremlin is mounting preparations for what it calls the 'psychological infection of personnel' by an enemy who would manipulate them through hypnosis—as well as through unknown mystical and psychic powers. The memo warns of 'psi-generators' and 'hypnotic abilities' used by foreign personnel."
Some of the measures the FSO prescribes are recognizable as support-group activity and other morale-boosting measures that people under stress might avail themselves of. Others, however, are talismanic and frankly nutty. These have support at the highest levels. "The leaked FSO memo explains that the deputy director of the FSO, Gen. Alexander Komov, is responsible for the ultimate implementation of the secret plan to ward off a psychic attack should it be needed. Komov is part science-minded, part kook. He participated in a conference organized last year by the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences about the possibility of spying on Earth from space. He also apparently leads a group of freelance advisors that includes astrologers, black magicians, and psychics."
The memo concentrates on keeping the FSO mission-ready in the face of psychic opposition, and the FSO, while it has an important mission, represents a small part of the Russian security and military apparatus. Nonetheless the interest in psychic attack is interesting. How much psychic warfare competes with sensible combat operations for attention and resources is of course difficult to assess, but any competition at all can't represent a net positive for Moscow's conduct of the war.
Incommensurable views of information security.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes that Russia has an understanding of information security that's quite different from the one that prevails in Western and especially US circles.
"Critically, Russian government references to so-called information security do not mirror the modern, Western understanding of information security—which refers generally to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of systems, networks, and data. Likewise, references to 'information security breaches' do not correspond to the contemporary Western understanding (of undermining encryption or getting past a firewall). Instead, the Russian government’s discussion of information security broadly encompasses the regime’s interests in the information sphere, including regime security and the state’s control over information flows and public opinion. This is the 'sovereignty' to which Moscow refers in 'cyber sovereignty.' Relatedly, breaches of information security, in the Russian government’s conception, include threats to encryption and technical defenses, but also include—and perhaps principally emphasize—undesirable content or information. The last of the Information Security Doctrine’s 'external threats' speaks particularly to this point. Indeed, the document expresses a fear of information undermining the regime: 'the precariousness of citizens’ rights to information access, and information manipulation evoke a negative reaction among people, which in a number of cases leads to a destabilization of the social and political situation in society.'”
This view is significantly inward-looking and inclined to view information operations as deterministic. Mistakes may be made, but nothing happens by chance.