15.03.2022 change 15.03.2022

A. Przegalińska: Cyber warfare will continue for a long time; we need training to recognise disinformation

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Russia has a lot of experience in cyber warfare, and disinformation war is planned for a long time. The West must learn to wield this weapon better. What we needed is training the public to recognise disinformation and create good systems to detect the source of information, says Dr. Aleksandra Przegalińska, a professor at the Kozminski University.

Dr. Przegalińska is a philosopher and researcher of the development of new technologies. She is particularly interested in green and sustainable technology, humanoid artificial intelligence, social robots and wearable technologies. She holds the position of Vice-rector for international cooperation, ethics and social responsibility at the Kozminski University.

PAP: Is it easy for invaders to destroy Ukraine's network infrastructure?

Aleksandra Przegalińska: It is certainly possible. The destruction of optic fibre connections is more difficult, but radio masts can be destroyed relatively easily. The question is whether the Russians want to use local infrastructure for their own purposes. They must maintain communications, and according to some reports they have problems in this area. It seems to me that when asking for Starlink (SpaceX telecommunications satellite system - PAP) the Ukrainian authorities assumed it was better to be safe than sorry. It was correct, pragmatic decision.

PAP: Maybe it is also easier for Russia to break into Ukrainian networks?

AP: Russians have a lot of experience in cyber attacks. The question of whether if they do such a thing, will Russia not fall victim to the international community of hackers. I believe that this would be a fairly even fight. Russia was recently attacked by Anonymous, but I do not think that they showed a lot of what they really can do.

PAP: Assuming that a large part of Ukraine would lose Internet access, who will primarily benefit from Starlink - the government, the military, journalists, ordinary people?

AP: When Elon Musk announced the creation of Starlink, he said that it would ultimately cover the whole world, but first and foremost it would enable the transfer of information from places otherwise cut off from the world. So the main goal was to satisfy information needs. Journalists may thus be the target group, as well as the government and the military. Some citizens have already purchased Starlink terminals, but unfortunately the system did not work in Ukraine. Now it has changed.

PAP: Can those terminals, equipped with satellite transmitters, be traced and used to more easily attack the key people in the country?

AP: This is a threat. Relevant services must decide which need is more important - to provide and receive information, or to maintain safety. For example, if the whereabouts of the president were to be disclosed and his life or health put at risk, I do not think the decision about communication would be made. On the other hand, it seems that now the need for communication and information dominates. This is associated with things like the logistics of humanitarian operations, which must be directed to the right places. In addition, the president has not been hiding that much, until recently he was photographed with various buildings visible behind him.

PAP: You mentioned journalists. Now, thanks to the Internet, just about everyone in the world can keep track of what is happening in Ukraine. The public largely influences the decisions of other countries. This can be of great importance for the course and outcome of the conflict.

AP: I certainly agree. I think that if not for the attitude of Ukraine, which the whole world saw on social media, if not for the way information now carries, we would not have this attitude now. I think that with each passing day that gives us more information, the support for Ukraine is getting stronger.

PAP: Meanwhile, the other side of the coin is that the major Internet players restrict access of the Russian Government-controlled news services.

AP: That is certainly important as well, but I have a concern. Russians are great at paying trolls that spread various messages. A large part of the problem therefore relates to the information coming from different grassroots paramilitary, nationalist and other groups. Even in Poland we already have fake news about what Ukraine supposedly did. There are people who will want to pick up this kind of information and pass it on. In many cases, Russia will not even have to do anything. You could say that we are dealing with an octopus and it is terribly difficult to fight it. Google and other services have begun to verify delete some of the content, but it is an extremely difficult task.

PAP: Can it be handled somehow?

AP: What we really need is training the public to recognise disinformation. People should also know not to pass on suspicious news, even if they are outraged. A similar problem concerns sharing information about the movements of troops. Such information helps the enemy to attack. Meanwhile, people seem to think that sharing all information is good. It not always is! So I appeal to everyone to remain vigilant, not to share suspicious information and to report it. I think that such mass actions will have results. We need to remain vigilant not only for the next few days, but in the coming months.

PAP: Are there any technical ways to fight disinformation?

AP: We have to create very good tagging systems. My work concerns artificial intelligence and I am able to imagine models that recognize key words, content or origin of information. Unfortunately, the construction of such systems takes a while. It is surprising that we are not well prepared yet. We practiced it already in 2016, during the presidential elections in the US, when Russia flooded the Internet with disinformation.

PAP: There is a third side of the Internet, important in the current situation: transactions and payments, which are now limited in Russia.

AP: That is true, but there are other possibilities that Russia could use, for example cryptocurrencies. I hear that they might begin to be intensively used. There are already circulating questions whether Russia can bypass some of the sanctions with cryptocurrencies.

PAP: Can it?

AP: There are some options. In theory, the exchange can be controlled to some extent, but in practice, Russia may hide such transactions very well. Hiding large sums will be difficult, but you can imagine that it will be feasible to a degree. When imposing restrictions on Russia, the focus was mainly on the electronic circulation of traditional money.

PAP: What about cutting Russia off from other, less obvious electronic services?

AP: There are some possibilities. For example, it is possible to disable access to the GPS system.

PAP: Looking at all this, you get the impression that, without underestimating of what happens in the real world of course, a large part of the warfare moved to the Internet. In part, we are dealing with and information and information technology war...

AP: The war in which people die is a real conflict, but there is also a parallel front. In this war, in cyber warfare, Russia feels very good. They have been training for this for a long time. They have extensive experience in this, they feel confident. And, when it comes to disinformation, for example, we must consider the long term. We can imagine that Kyiv is defended, or that, unfortunately, it falls. In both cases, it will cause many months of really strong turbulence of a global nature. Disinformation war is planned for a long time. It is a process that slowly brings results. Russia has a lot of experience in this area and the West must learn to wield this weapon better.

PAP - Science in Poland, Marek Matacz

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