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Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift in the way that top U.S. government officials think about cybersecurity. When the U.S. Cyber Command was first created back in 2010, the emphasis was on defense and defending the perimeters of sensitive networks. However, since then, the emphasis has shifted to a more proactive approach that prioritizes “persistent engagement” with the enemy outside of these networks. This means that the U.S. Cyber Command is now willing to engage with various threat actors wherever they might be. Not surprisingly, this new cybersecurity doctrine could have huge implications for social media.
Facebook and the Russian bot problem
The easiest way to see how a more proactive cybersecurity approach will impact social media is by considering the whole “Russian bot” problem. If Russia is really using social media to sow division, discord and anxiety online, doesn’t it make sense that social media is going to become a new type of battleground in which fake avatars, hidden identities and uncertain motives are now part and parcel of how state actors look to destabilize (or at least influence) the United States? Simply by creating thousands of “bot” accounts and pushing out tens of thousands of posts on a topic, various state actors could begin to destabilize the United States by causing us to doubt our most cherished ideas. They might encourage people to go out and take to the streets, or to vote for a particular candidate looking to burn down the system.
So shouldn’t the U.S. Cyber Command be on the lookout for foreign “bot farms” that are being created around the world with these malignant aims in mind? With a more proactive approach, the U.S. Cyber Command might actually decide to drop a few malware payloads on such bot farms in order to obliterate them forever – the same way they might think about obliterating ISIS terrorist training camps. Of course, all of this would take place behind the scenes, and the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans or Iranians would never really know what took place.
LinkedIn and the Chinese espionage problem
Or, consider for a moment how the Chinese are reportedly using LinkedIn for espionage purposes. They are compiling very elaborate network diagrams of how defense contractors are organized, who reports to whom, and what sorts of knowledge or expertise is being prioritized at any time. They are also inserting their own Chinese agents as top executives or managers at state-run corporations, and then encouraging them to “link up” with U.S. partners in order to gain access and influence.
The clearest example here is Huawei – a state-run Chinese tech behemoth that is reportedly a front company for the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate the entire world via “back doors” in Huawei networking equipment. If that is really the case, isn’t that a form of cyber threat that the U.S. Cyber Command should be handling on social media?
TikTok and Chinese influence
And, finally, consider how TikTok has become such a hot topic of controversy in 2020. Is TikTok a harmless social media app beloved by teens and young Internet users, or is it really an insidious Trojan horse infiltration of American society by the Chinese? Right now, popular opinion seems to favor the latter, with the U.S. government even going so far as to ban downloads of the dangerous TikTok app within U.S. national borders. After all, the Chinese could be using TikTok to control the narrative around Taiwan or Hong Kong. Or, even more insidiously, the Chinese could be using TikTok to keep watch over young TikTok-using U.S. navy servicemen and women patrolling the waters of the South China Sea. So doesn’t it make sense that the U.S. Cyber Command should be keeping an eye on Chinese social networks?
A brave new world for cybersecurity
This all adds up to a much greater focus being placed on social media as a new future battleground for global cybersecurity. In order to compete, nations must now realize that social media networks – both those inside and outside the perimeter of sensitive computer networks – are now fair game for threat actors around the world. We all need to pay attention to this. It affects all users of the digital age, even the youngest among us, such as those using new platforms like TikTok to connect with friends and family.