Understanding Strategic Information Manoeuvres in Network Media to Advance Cyber Operations: A Case Study Analysing Pro-Russian Separatists’ Cyber Information Operations in Crimean Water Crisis

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The inexpensive nature and wide availability of emerging media outlets, e.g. social networking sites and blogs makes them easy-to-use weapons, giving power and courage to individuals to form groups that are able to win or at least force concessions from stronger forces. Today, terrorist groups know that opinions can be influenced using networked media and this knowledge empowers and enables them to alienate their audience and sometimes provoke them into violent actions. To understand the strategic information manoeuvres used by such groups, e.g., trans-national terrorist groups, we study the channels (blogs, Twitter, etc.) and methods (e.g., influential actors/groups) they use to disseminate messages pertaining to recruitment, radicalization, and raising funds. We collect data from several sources, including over 130 blog websites known for pro-Russian propaganda for events such as the Crimean water crisis and Trident Juncture Exercise (TRJE 15). In addition to blogs, we collect data from Twitter for the above-mentioned events to study the crossinfluence of various social media platforms in conducting strategic information manoeuvres. The study shows that groups are able to spread their opinions and create emotional attitudes for their followers through the sophisticated and blended use of these network media platforms via powerful actors, trolls, and botnets. We design social and network science informed methodologies to study the sociotechnical behaviours of trolls and botnets and develop detection tools ready to be deployed for Cyber operations. The tools have been further tested in the information operations of ISIL, e.g., beheading of hostages in orange jump suits. This study helps identifying the actions needed to win this “battle of ideas”.

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