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The Best Defense Against Sophisticated AI-Based Cyber Attacks Is Actually Very Simple

The high value targets make news, but that’s really the low hanging fruit in the real cyber war. The real prize is what we’ve been hearing about for the last two years: #FakeNews and social interference in our politics. And our enemies know exactly where to hit us.

Saturday, an engineer I follow on YouTube named Destin Sandlin whose channel is called Smarter Every Day, posted a primer on how #FakeNews is being literally engineered into our most popular Internet sites, using sophisticated AI and quick-reaction programming teams. Read the whole thread.

It’s fascinating and frightening at the same time. The level of effort, technology and investment being thrown at the task of making a single false news story indicates a highly developed program such as the one highlighted in the New York Times Magazine story from 2015 titled “The Agency.” But now, it’s moved beyond rooms full of humans posting and commenting into the realm of AI, the manipulation of thousands of bot accounts, and the use of our favorite social media company algorithms to maximize divisive and inflammatory content on both sides of the political spectrum.

Just think, if the Russians/Iranians/Chinese can figure out how to get an aerospace engineer who does YouTube as a major part of his life to click on a fake YouTube story video because it appears real, what are they getting you and me to click on?

Yes, the President’s smartphone, our nuclear command and control system, our electric grid, and transportation systems are constantly being tested. What our enemies might gather from Trump’s smartphone that’s not already on Twitter is beyond me; but the other targets, if hit, would be an obvious act of war, that would require an appropriate response.


They are hitting us in places we can’t easily defend. They are also hitting us in infrastructure to support future attacks. In the last month, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) reported another attack on our Domain Name System, by hijacking DNS servers to harvest username and password information. This latest attack seems to originate in Iran.

Just a few weeks ago, AT&T experienced a core routing failure related to DNS. I don’t know if the two items are related, but the coincidence is notable.

The game here is getting a fake story promoted by the real media, using very real and usually reliable sites and links. And our enemies can do it.

They count on our media’s bias. They count on a single false story getting thousands of retweets and views, with the retraction getting barely a mention. They count on this happening over and over again, and they see the erosion of trust in America’s news organizations, and the chaos that has followed.

Until the media realizes they are being played, not by some Trump-Russia collusion, but by all of America’s cyber enemies, and they start pursuing truth instead of being first with a story, we will continue to be defeated.

Perhaps Sandlin’s suggestion, responding with an active unity, a countermeasure of forgiveness and grace, is the best answer. There’s no AI or algorithm that can defeat those weapons.

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