Welcome to the latest roundup of CTEC’s latest activities, including publications, media appearances, and more. It’s been a somewhat quiet week here at CTEC, as we’re in the midst of either finalizing or starting up several exciting projects that I hope to talk more about soon. In the meantime, we do have a couple of pieces of news to call out.
I’d like to remind everyone once again that we’ve set up a research fellowship in our late colleague Mike Donnelly’s name, in order to support a deserving MIIS student. Please read our full announcement of the fellowship and consider donating, if you have the means.
Conspiracy Theories and Disinformation
Since its inception, CTEC has consistently focused on the growth of conspiracy theories and disinformation in the American political landscape, as they are integral in contemporary extremist movements. This week, I spoke with Jeff Stone of CyberScoop about this trend. Specifically, I argued that one of the biggest threats facing the U.S. this election year is that nonstate actors—especially extremist communities—have picked up on disinformation strategies such as the ones used by Russia in 2016. Elements of society have begun building pseudo-religious infrastructure around the false information that is spread through these campaigns, and the most famous of these is QAnon.
Speaking of QAnon, you can also head to Twitter to check out a recent thread I posted highlighting interesting behaviors of Q-affiliated users on the platform. It’s important to say that there is not a lot of evidence that Q is being propped up by bots; however, users frequently demonstrate bot-like activity, with efforts to “hack engagement” on tweets in order to amplify their messages.
Cyber-Enabled Financial Crime
To wrap up the week, be sure to check out CTEC expert and MIIS Professor Moyara Ruehsen’s excellent guest blog on Money Laundering Watch. She dives into the intricacies of cyber-enabled financial crime, including the importance of all financial institutions to be knowledgeable about cryptocurrencies, the challenges presented by COVID-19, and what “money mules” are.
“The smaller financial institutions are really at a disadvantage,” she writes. “They are too small to collaborate with federal agencies until a disaster happens, and they cannot afford to invest as much in cybersecurity measures as their larger competitors. They may not feel like they are as attractive a target, but their weaker defenses make them attractive to criminals. And in our hyperconnected world, cybercrime risks are difficult to mitigate when most of our seemingly low-risk business and retail customers are exposed to different varieties of cybercrime (BEC scams, romance scams, ransomware, Covid-19-fraud, work-from-home schemes, cryptocurrency scams, etc.) on a constant basis.
“That again speaks to the importance of educating customers (business and retail customers). I’ve always wondered why financial institutions don’t do more of that, and I can only think that they are concerned that it might alarm some customers and make them uneasy. However, I think there is a way to issue such public service announcements in a way that instills customer confidence.”