CISA Plans More Forceful Response to Disinformation Campaigns

Expect a more muscular response to disinformation and misinformation campaigns targeting the nation’s “cognitive infrastructure,” the head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) told attendees at a recent conference.

“I am actually going to grow and strengthen my misinformation and disinformation team,” CISA Director Jen Easterly said virtually at the RE:WIRED conference. (via The Hill) The cybersecurity agency considers information designed to intentionally mislead, as spread primarily through social media, a serious threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure, private industry and government.

“One could argue we’re in the business of critical infrastructure, and the most critical infrastructure is our cognitive infrastructure, so building that resilience to misinformation and disinformation, I think, is incredibly important,” she said.

Still, Easterly didn’t provide any details on the composition of a larger anti-disinformation team or its strategy and tactics to push back. Moreover, it's unclear if or how the CISA will step up efforts to engage content providers, platform providers and MSSPs to find and eliminate disinformation.

Such is the magnitude of the cold war era cyber attacks that in October, 2020, during the Presidential election cycle, CISA posted an election security rumor control page that has since taken root. It is continually updated to describe a variety of scenarios that threat actors might use to muddle facts with rumors and conspiracy theories. Easterly has said she intends to keep the site up and populated.

Moreover, she is signaling that the agency intends to do all it can to slow down or arrest the torrent of disinformation and misinformation flooding the nation’s communication channels. Challenging rumors with facts isn’t easy. Finding ways to disseminate actual facts and not “alternative facts,” as coined following the 2016 president election, is the obvious goal. It will take a joint effort of the public and private sector to combat what can best be described as a form of propaganda orchestrated by foreign cyber adversaries, Easterly suggested. “We are going to work with our partners in the private sector and throughout the rest of the government and at the department to continue to ensure that the American people have the facts that they need to help protect our critical infrastructure,” she said.

Easterly also reportedly touched on the “corrosive” effects disinformation and misinformation can have on election security. “There is a certain percentage of the American people that are not going to be convinced and are not going to listen to the government, we get that, but there is a certain part of the American public that do still trust the government and that do still come to us and that get facts about things that can be difficult to understand,” she said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft President Brad Smith, in a speech delivered at the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs, echoed much of Easterly’s words, homing in on state-sponsored disinformation operations aimed at eroding democracy. (via The Hill)

“It has become in some ways almost a tool of choice to disrupt a democracy, to sow dissent, to cause people to question even fundamental facts like who won the election and is this vaccine safe, or does it work,” Smith said. “In some ways, it may be far more effective, it’s certainly less expensive, to launch a government-sponsored disinformation campaign than it is to build a hypersonic missile, and we have some countries that have the resources easily to do both.”

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.