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Episode 105: Is Trolling a Human Rights Abuse? Also: the Do’s and Dont’s of Ransomware Negotiation

In this week’s podcast: a report out last week from The Institute for the Future makes clear that state sponsored trolling has gone global and is now a go-to tool for repressive regimes worldwide, constituting a new form of human rights abuse. Ben Nimmo of The Atlantic Council joins us to discuss. Also: ransomware is one of the most effective forms of online crime. Despite that, many organizations have no formal plan for responding to a ransomware attack: we talk with Thomas Hofmann of the firm Flashpoint*, which has launched a new service to help firms prepare for and respond to ransomware.

State sponsored trolling: the newest form of human rights abuse

To read the headlines, you’d think that the US was the only country dealing with a wave of politically motivated online campaigns of trolling and disinformation. But a report out last week from The Institute for the Future (PDF) makes the case that trolling has gone global and is now a go-to tool for repressive regimes worldwide. State sponsored trolling, the report concludes, is a new form of human rights abuse that is taking place from Azerbaijan toIndia to Venezuela, often with dire consequences for democracy and civil liberties.

While the methods used by trolls may vary, the objective is always the same, says Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab: intimidation. “Its all about intimidation and scaring people offline,” he told me.

[See also: China Using Big Brother-Like System to Track, Monitor Minorities]

In our first segment, we invited Ben in to talk about the Atlantic Council’s research on online trolling campaigns. Nimmo said that, while the 2016 presidential election in the US riveted the world’s attention on online disinformation campaigns, in fact they’re nothing new and have played a part in more than one consequential political campaign, including two recent Mexican presidential contests.

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A graph showing the network of Twitter accounts used to troll Turkish journalist Ceyda Karan.

If the Russian influence campaign was a surprise to lawmakers and authorities in the U.S., it shouldn’t have been, Nimmo said. “Online trolling is a worldwide problem and it certainly didn’t start in the United States,” he said.

[Read more stories about Russian hacking on Security Ledger]

In fact, online disinformation campaigns have been noticeable in Russian politics for almost two decades. Russian journalists had infiltrated the St. Petersburg troll factory The Internet Research Agency as early as 2013 to document what was going on there. By 2016, Nimmo notes, there was lots of evidence that Russia’s trolls were interested in the U.S. election. “All the clues were there, but nobody in the U.S. were paying attention to them.”

That’s no longer the case. Ben and I talk about how trolling has spread and how its changing in the face of reforms from social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. We also talk about how to spot disinformation and the work of trolls and bots when you come across them.

Ransomware Criminal on Line 2!

You’ve likely read a lot about ransomware attacks, like the one that laid low the City of Atlanta in recent months. But being aware of a threat is different from being prepared to address it. Should you negotiate with the ransomers? And if so, under what conditions? What is the best way to communicate with them? Should your company keep crypto currency on hand to pay ransom? if so, how much and what types of crypto currency (there are lots of them)?

[See also: Episode 97: On eve of GDPR frightening lack of data privacy, security in US]

In our second segment, we brought Thomas Hofmann of the firm Flashpoint into the Security Ledger Studios to talk about a new service his company is offering to help companies prepare for and if necessary respond to ransomware attacks. He said that one of the biggest mistakes companies make is being too quick to contact ransomware wear scammers.

(*) Flashpoint is a paid sponsor of The Security Ledger.

Correction: an earlier version of this story misspelled Mr. Hofmann of Flashpoint’s last name. The story has been updated to use the correct spelling. PFR 7/23/2018

One Comment

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