The next phase of information warfare may involve a blend of Soviet-style fake documents and more current document dumps that expose private information.
There’s no shortage of recent examples where organisations have had secrets laid bare in files leaked by hackers whose identities remains unknown. Depending on the profile of the victim, it can result in a torrent of news reports and social media commentary about the target’s secrets, including dubious contracts, corporate strategies, and executive pay.
But what happens if a select few inflammatory documents among the cache are forged, and designed to unsettle already tenuous relationships? And what happens when, say, a WikiLeaks dump includes just one manufactured document?
“Imagine trying to explain to the press, eager to publish the worst of the details in the documents, that everything is accurate except this particular email,” security expert, Bruce Schneier wonders in a blog that asks what the next step is in “organisational doxxing”, where leaked documents expose secrets about an organisation instead of its original form as an attack on an individual.
Schneier argues that it would be impossible to argue against the validity of a single fake document among thousands of authentic ones. “Who would believe you? No one. And you couldn't prove it.”
His warning comes amid a spate of recent document leaks designed to expose secrets from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which has raised questions about how the US should respond and whether it should retaliate against the presumed attacker, Russia. This comes to the backdrop of earlier leaks by Edward Snowden that exposed US surveillance of other nations.
The most recent US-focussed leak emerged on Tuesday in a dump containing medical records from the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) that call into question the legitimacy of US sports stars, including gymnast Simone Biles and tennis champs, Venus and Serena Williams.
Russian athletes were banned from the Rio Olympics following a damning report by WADA alleging state-sponsored doping across Russia’s Olympic teams.
However, with the US presidential race in full swing, it’s the 20,000 leaked DNC emails that has focussed attention on how the US should respond to alleged Russian hacking and “organizational doxxing”. So far the White House has resisted calls to publicly blame the DNC attacks on Russia.
Schneier doesn’t connect Russia to the DNC attack, or other US examples, such as Sony Pictures Entertainment’s breach, thought to be the work of North Korea, or recently uncovered Cisco exploits, allegedly sourced from National Security Agency servers and thought to have been stolen by Russian hackers.
However, he notes that Russia has doctored documents in opposition to NATO’s potential expansion to bordering Sweden, and concludes that the confluence of events in Europe and the US could give rise to more attacks that combine doxxing with one or two doctored documents.
Why? Because it’s relatively cheap and difficult to deny.
“Forging thousands -- or more -- documents is difficult to pull off, but slipping a single forgery in an actual cache is much easier. The attack could be something subtle. Maybe a country that anonymously publishes another country's diplomatic cables wants to influence yet a third country, so adds some particularly egregious conversations about that third country,” writes Schneier.