On April 5, 2018, the Valdai Discussion Club held an expert discussion, titled "Informational Warfare on the Cyber Sphere: Fake, Semi-Fake and Reality." Main speakers were Bruce W. McConnell, Senior Vice President, EastWest Institute, and Andrey Krutskikh, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cooperation on Information Security. The discussion was moderated by Ivan Timofeev, Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club.
The use of modern technologies as a political tool, including the aggressive policy, became one of the most pressing problems in recent years. As Ivan Timofeev noted, the current situation in relations between Russia and the US in the information space resembles in many respects the Caribbean crisis: we are dealing with new technologies having no specific rules to be guided by, both parties drown in the conflicting rhetoric. Hence the question: How to behave in this new situation - and what is it in general? What rules or norms can be worked out to ensure personal, national, and global information security?
Bruce McConnell began drawing the thesis that the opinion of the total novelty of information technologies - fake news in particular - is greatly exaggerated: much of what exist now we have already seen in the past. Fake news is an old technology, today is being used by some new technical means. In combination with the public’s liability to believe something or not, these means prove them effective. In the current situation, the IT companies and big media should take responsibility for the spread of information, work on its verification and track who is financing it.
Acquired Information Deficiency Syndrome, or the Crisis of Trust
The world has plunged into information chaos and both elites and ordinary people are drowning in it. The consequences of global inability to understand what is happening can be terrifying, up to destruction or significant degradation of humanity. Harbingers of that can be observed right now.
Having specified a number of problems, the expert suggested an action program for their resolution. One of them is micro-targeting of information, when large corporations, monitoring the lives of people, got the opportunity to address the messages individually. This tendency should be considered negatively, as the people’s private life should be inviolable. Furthermore, there is a lack of status quo and also the "constant struggle for the minds of people", the distribution of bots and Internet trolls. McConnell stressed that although people themselves must learn to take a critical look at information with the help of educational programs, the state should provide them with freedom from mega-corporations surveillance and a space to rest anonymous.
As to cyber weapons, there was a disagreement between two experts. While McConnell stated that cyber weapons should be used pointwise, avoiding collateral damage as much as possible, Andrey Krutskikh objected that such weapons should be banned totally, like the chemical and nuclear weapons before. The American expert stressed that a cyber ethics should be developed also "from below", by users themselves, while Krutskikh emphasized the role of the international expert community. As an example of successful initiatives of this kind, he cited the provision that the state bears responsibility for cyber attacks, occurring on its territory / from its territory, as well as the recent proposal by Maria Zakharova, the official spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, to develop a code of countermeasures against the fake news.
The Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation reminded that Russia was the first country called for precautionary measures against the consequences of cyber-revolution, and in 1998 it proposed an appropriate resolution at the UN. While adopting the document, many countries were skeptical about it, so its true meaning became clear only now - in a situation where millions of cyber-attacks are committed every day. The expert described the situation as "disastrous", stressing that the degradation of the security system and the harmful use of cyber technologies could entail a real "hot" war.
The progress in understanding of the current situation was appreciated positively by Krutskikh: "Mankind became wiser and it is difficult to fool that mankind", he said. "The countries in the world have very clearly realized their cyber vulnerability, and they are ready to fight for their national interests". Therefore, it is necessary to develop some rules of conduct in the cyberspace, to take care of global security. At the same time, the expert noted that some countries in the West treat the problem irresponsibly: the US refused to negotiate in Geneva, and Britain during the "Skrypal affair" stated that it would use its cyber potential to strike Russia. In order to solve this problem, governments of different countries should cooperate with each other, involving businessmen and lawyers. The fight against cyber threats is "something that one country or a group of countries cannot do on its own, everyone has to sweat in this field collectively", the expert concluded.