There is so much hacking going on that it seems to have become almost boring. But it behooves us to take hacking very seriously. I think if the public knew more about the way hacked information is actually being used, we’d pay closer attention and defend ourselves more effectively.
Who cares about all the hacking? Take a hypothetical example: American soldiers in the Middle East have been receiving emails that sound something like this: “Good morning. We thought you would like to know that we are carefully watching your daughter Rosie, the one who lives in Wichita at 1234 State Street. This is to inform you that if your tank moves 100 meters north, she will not live to see the sun rise tomorrow.”
That’s the sort of thing that can happen when personal data get into dangerous hands. American troops aren’t afraid to die in combat, but their children did not volunteer. This sort of blackmail is credible and effective. Threats against the kids are more powerful than those against the troops themselves. And this is only one way in which the hackers and their clients can exploit all those millions of files.
Such emails come from the “information dominance and psychological warfare” handbook to add incremental corrosive stress to the war fighter, in addition to the stress that he or she is already under. Direct stress to the war fighter is “thrown off” nearly automatically because of good training and because we operate under the theory of the team, the band of the brotherhood, etc. We are trained to believe that we as a team, so long as we are a team together, will be okay.
However, the greater stress that impacts the war fighter is that which cannot be spun off — and that is a threat against our family at home, alone, and while we are in combat and deployed.
Thus, this particular PSYCHOP — a hypothetical one, to be sure, but similar things happen often — is very cleverly created because it cannot be easily shed — it is done to add additional stress; and moreover, to distract and defocus and finally to demoralize the war fighter so that they will make mistakes or lose focus upon their training or not take risks.
The hacked data provide our enemies with a terrific mailing list, as well as targets for espionage (that’s how they get information about “Rosie”).
Which raises two crucial questions: Who’s hacking? Who are their clients?
The emails do not have a return address, but let us say for the sake of argument that the sender was a member of one of the leading terrorist groups such as IS or Al Qaeda. Where did he get the files? Most of the newspaper articles on the hackers suggest that they were either Chinese or working for China, but I have a very hard time believing that the Chinese government would provide radical Muslim terrorist organizations with such data. Chinese intelligence focuses on things useful for direct U.S./PRC conflict, and feeding secret U.S. information to terrorists might threaten this central mission.
If the United States government – even a famously feeble one like the Obama administration – sorted this out and concluded that Beijing was giving personal data on American fighters to their would-be killers in the Middle East, there would likely be violent consequences. The Chinese don’t want that, and I think they are too smart to risk it.
If not the Chinese, there are two other likely sponsors of the hacking operations: Russia and Iran.
As a long-time KGB officer, Putin would not shrink from blackmail of this sort, and, unlike the Chinese, the Russians are directly involved in military operations in Syria and elsewhere in the region. Moreover, he does not believe for a nanosecond that the current American government would do the slightest thing if he were found out. But while I can well imagine Putin’s Russia working against American special forces hand-in-hand with Middle Eastern terrorists, it still seems too risky to send emails directly to our troops. An assassin yes, an electronic message no. He knows that our electronic counterintelligence is pretty good…but Russia is the epicenter of a major criminal hacking network, and the government undoubtedly has working relations with the hackers, so it’s possible that the Russian government has subcontracted the project.
The Iranians, on the other hand, might well be happy to have us know they have our secrets, and threatening the lives of satanic Americans is their daily bread. They’re good hackers, their internet skills are considerable, they’ve got intimate ties to virtually every terrorist group, and they’ve got thousands of soldiers, trainers, intel officials etc. etc. in Syria. They’ve got motive and opportunity, and, like the Russians, they do not fear reprisals from the Obama administration. For extras, they work intimately with both Russia and China, so whoever did the actual hacking, the Iranians might get access to at least some of the data.
As you can see, the hacking of our private information produces cyber weapons that are being used —directly, on the ground — in the global war against us. It’s a big deal, and we should be more attentive to it.
Unless we want to lose.