Investigating, analyzing and countering malign influence operations
Disinformation or malign influence campaigns are increasingly being used by a range of domestic political and criminal threat actors to exert coercive or covert control over a targeted audience. Given their highly targeted and dynamic nature, there is no systematic or codified way to stop malign influence campaigns. However, our organization has developed a holistic approach that has proven successful in analyzing and mitigating its impacts.
By distinguishing between malign influence and organic activities, we can help estimate what the adversary’s underlying goals are, the operational scale of their activities and what methods are used to seed, amplify and control their narratives. We can then help your organization craft competing narratives and orchestrate an ethically responsible counter strategy, at scale.
Influence operators employ persuasive tactics to manipulate and deceive a targeted audience– John Daniele, Managing Director, DNC Cybersecurity
The sole purpose of malign influence campaigns are to influence and control or corrupt the internal democratic processes and activities of a targeted organization or society. Influence operators employ the manipulative or deceptive use of the tactics of persuasion. Disinformation is therefore, the key weapon of the influence operator. Disinformation involves the use of false or misleading information that is deliberately propagated across a social network with the intent to deceive. This modern form of “narrative warfare” has already impacted the outcomes of elections, divided communities and destroyed the reputations of businesses.
In business, malign influence campaigns are designed to undermine organizational beliefs and alter opinions to disrupt executive decision making and impact performance.
The democratization of these tactics has evolved alongside the advent of disruptive social technologies and is quickly becoming our new normal. As such, distinguishing between organic activity from legitimate customers and authentic voices versus coordinated and malicious activity from fake online personas and co-opted online influencers poses a significant technical, analytical and investigative challenge.
Therefore, to counter such operations, it’s imperative that organizations adopt better analytical techniques to identify malign activity from available marketing data. When analyzing a malign influence campaign with the objective of crafting an effective counter strategy, it’s important to answer the following questions:
- Who the most probable bad actors?
- What are their possible goals and objectives?
- What is the operational scale of their campaign?
- What specific methods and technical procedures have been deployed to support their campaign?
A three-pronged approach to countering influence operations
Our approach to countering malign influence operations includes three phases:
Our organization employs a multidisciplinary approach to identify malign activity. We combine the use of traditional intelligence analysis methods with data analytics, graph analysis, natural language processing and sentiment analysis. This helps us quickly zero in on the disinformation, fake reviews or fake profiles leveraged by the campaign. It also enables us to understand the multifaceted nature of the threat; at scale and near-realtime.
Once malign activity has been established, we then dive deeper into the available dataset using open source intelligence methods of analysis. Our investigators and forensics experts will analyze the fake profiles and malign narratives and develop a technical profile of the bad actors, articulate the nature of the threat as well as uncover the full scope and scale of their operations. By examining the technical attributes of the campaign and estimating what orchestration and automation infrastructure would be needed to support it, our team can better understand the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) of the adversary. Such information is crucial to devising a successful counter strategy.
With an understanding of the adversary and its campaign, we then work with our narrative warfare experts to dismantle weaponized narratives and begin mitigating the malign campaign’s influence and impact upon the targeted audience. We then leverage our own automation and orchestration capabilities to more strategically match competing narratives with truthful and compelling ones, at scale.