At a glance.
- AI's persuasive potential.
- The effects of hacktivism on Russia's war against Ukraine.
- Radio Life, Russia’s psyop radio station with questionable taste in Western pop music.
AI's persuasive potential.
AI is found to reflect the biases (presented as political and geographical by some observers, but perhaps better conceived of as class-based) of the people who train it. A piece in the Wall Street Journal points to this with some alarm. The essay cites a study that suggests consumers of AI-generated content may be unaware that they're being influenced, that they're being subjected to "latent persuasion."
OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman expressed similar concerns in his testimony before Congress this week. His prescription, in the Washington Post's account of the testimony, is a system of regulation and licensing through which the government would impose safeguards on the deployment of AI (like his company's ChatGPT). "Notably absent from Altman’s proposals: requiring AI models to offer transparency into their training data, as his fellow expert witness Gary Marcus has called for," the Post writes, "or prohibiting them from being trained on artists’ copyrighted works, as Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has suggested." If the concern is bias, then the training would seem to be most interesting.
The effects of hacktivism on Russia's war against Ukraine.
A study the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published this morning addresses various aspects of the war in cyberspace. One of the report's constituent essays, by Erica D. Lonergan, looks at the use of "proxies," that is, deniable hacktivist or criminal groups that serve as cyber auxiliaries under the direction of state authorities. That direction can be relatively loose or relatively stringent. The essay takes two representative and opposing groups, the IT Army of Ukraine (working in the interest of Kyiv) and KillNet (working for Moscow). It sees similarities in the effects they've achieved--nuisance-level hacking, for the most part--and it concludes that the proxies have had their most significant effect in terms of propaganda.
Lonergan summarizes longstanding Russian policies and practices with respect to such proxies:
"Russia has been an especially prolific actor in the cyber proxy realm, leveraging these groups not only for cyber effects operations but also for broader purposes of information and psychological warfare. This is not surprising given the Russian doctrine, which conceptualizes cyberspace and cyber warfare as only one element of a broader 'information confrontation.' For example, Moscow has established longstanding relationships with cyber criminal organizations: providing them safe haven, protecting them from prosecution, and turning a blind eye to their criminal activities in exchange for their tacit agreement to avoid targeting Russian interests in cyberspace and to be available when called upon to act on behalf of the government. More recently, Russia has permitted ransomware groups to operate from its territory and conduct costly attacks against Western targets (even if it does not direct or order them to do so), including the spate of ransomware attacks in 2021 against U.S. firms such as Colonial Pipeline and JBS meat processing. Yet, Russia’s tolerance of cyber criminal groups is sometimes tested, such as its announcement in January 2022 that the Federal Security Service (FSB) had dismantled the ransomware group REvil, arresting some of its members and seizing its assets."
Such proxies may be "witting or unwitting," the latter perhaps falling into the old Leninist category of useful idiots.
KillNet has been perhaps the most visible of the Russian proxies, and Lonergan notes that it seems more interested in attention-getting gestures than in tangible effects on systems. "This cyber activity is a hallmark of Killnet’s approach: conducting low-impact disruptive cyber campaigns against Western critical infrastructure and other targets. In these types of campaigns, Killnet does not appear to be focused on actually having an impact with its disruptive attacks—or at least does not particularly care if its self-generated bravado matches reality. Despite the negligible effects of its cyber operations, Killnet appears to relish in hyperbolic and triumphalist language to rally supporters around its cyber campaigns."
The proxies' records, the study concludes, suggest that they're best understood as influence operations.
Radio Life, Russia’s psyop radio station with questionable taste in Western pop music.
KillNet posted an approving link to an online psyop radio station centered around demoralizing Ukrainian and foreign troops fighting in Ukraine. On its website Radio Life (Radio Zhizn) explains that its mission is to “help Ukrainian military members to make the right choice, accept the only decision, which will help save their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.” In the five minutes we were able to listen to it, the radio station was blasting Quiet Riots’s “Cum on Feel the Noize,” but the broadcast abruptly fell silent. The station also broadcasts to the Kharkov and Kherson Oblasts in Ukraine via VHF radio channels. The station also created a Telegram channel on May 7th 2022 with no posts until yesterday, when they dumped approximately fifty messages meant to demoralize Ukrainian service members and other Ukrainians engaged with the channel. (The big question, of course, is why would Radio Zhizn confine itself to Quiet Riot? Were Mungo Jerry and Screamin' Jay Hawkins unavailable? And while we're on the subject, it seems that any true Russian patriots would've sampled Grupa Arktika, and not Quiet Riot.)