Interview

Key Findings on Malign Information, Misinformation, and Cyberattacks


Ksenia Iliuk, Head of Research at Detector Media, Ukraine tells us about some key findings of their research in the media landscape of Ukraine. Find out what she has to say about Telegram and what it has to do with #cybersecurity.

What does Detector Media do?
Detector Media is a Ukrainian civil society organization that works in several dimensions. Basically protecting, safeguarding freedom of speech, promoting quality journalism and standards in media, and analyzing and combating malign information campaigns. And I'm basically responsible for leading research on identification and exposing of malign information campaigns both on TV and the social media.

What are some key findings of your monitoring in the last year?
For the last year, it’s basically the year that encompasses Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine.
So one of the key outcomes that we see that is very striking is how malign information campaigns are interconnected with other tools to influence the people and the decision making. For instance, how cyber and digital security are well connected with malign information campaigns. We see that every cyber attack is either you have the malign information campaign starting before or after or in the process.
So I would say by analyzing the information environment very comprehensively, you would be able even to predict some of the cyber attacks that's going to happen and how they’re going to happen. The second interesting insight that we see is that we mainly analyze Russian malign information campaigns. And what we see is that Russia is attacking people personally a lot, using a lot of types of phishing, digital scam, you know, and it's not that obvious that that's a part of malign information campaigns that it has to do with the security for average Ukrainians.
But it does and that's a very complex thing to tackle. I would say. And the third outcome is the basic resilience of Ukrainian people to Russian malign information campaigns. I've been working this field for over eight years and I was like, we had a lot of data points showing that before full scale invasions, like the threat awareness of Ukrainians is rising and that the level of resilience is potentially rising.
But I could never imagine that average Ukrainians could be so resilient to Russian malign information campaigns and that average people would invest so much in cyber security of the country, digital security, communications security, basically. Joining, in Ukraine it’s called information volunteers or information army. Basically people, not the state, but the people being representatives of their community, of the business, local, national one, stepping in and actually resisting very heavy state organized malign information campaigns that are basically supervising the military actions on the ground.

What does this have to do with Cybersecurity?
It's pretty much interconnected from what we've seen. I mean, even there were various cyber attacks and there are still cyber attacks happening from Russia’s side to Ukraine's critical infrastructure. But it's pretty well, like the resilience of the cyber part is pretty good. So we are all very, very happy with that, I would say. But they are continuing doing it, they continue developing it.
They are now amplifying it with the malign information campaigns, blending them, you know, using more and more hybrid tools to do that. So it's very important for cyber to step out only from the cyber domain, you know, and to consider the security has several dimensions, including communication, cognitive, information and other types of dimensions.

Where do you see more disinformation, in traditional or in social media?
Social media, of course.
I mean, it depends on the country, because the media landscape is pretty different in countries, but definitely we have first the decline of television worldwide, and that's basically one of the reasons why there is less disinformation over there. But still there are like, depending on the country, who is to what degree, the media, the TV, is independent or not.
But of course, social media provide so much more tools and capabilities for those doing malign information campaigns. Moreover, I would say that some of the features of the social media, they are basically fueling disinformation. Like, for instance, we are analyzing a lot of Telegram because Telegram became like a breeding ground of Russian propaganda and disinformation.
And in Ukraine is like the main source of malign information campaigns right now. And it's happening like in other countries as well. We see how they basically use the same model applying to other countries and what made it actually happen is the features of Telegram. That Telegram introduced these anonymous Telegram channels that you could just easily set up using a random SIM card, giving no information when it was, no information about who is behind that,
what’s that actually about. You could just create the name and start sending one sided messages and stay anonymous. And they’re kind of exploiting it a lot, creating whole media empires within Telegram. So that's the example when we see that the features of the social media and messengers are the one that are even enabling some of the new types of online information campaigns.