Since COVID19 took over the national conversation in March, the world has changed in unprecedented ways. But what does life look like after the pandemic is behind us? What are our current and future threats? We talked to Cybersecurity expert EJ Hilbert and got his thoughts on the future of our country, as well as our industry.

For Hilbert, who has been a staple on the Data Connectors’ virtual summit circuit, the threats that exist stem from our lack of a “common enemy” — combined with a general lack of trust in the data presented by media and the government.

“Common enemies allow governments to join together and point in one direction while hiding the things they are doing that might equal criticism and impact their livelihood,” Hilbert said.

You might be saying to yourself, “What about the pandemic? What about global warming?” It’s not fair to describe those as a common enemy — they’re intangibles. We can’t put COVID-19 on trial, we can’t attribute any human qualities to global warming. It’s possible that our most recent global common enemy was Al Qaeda — collectively hated by the United States, Russia, China, and all their respective enemies. 

What happens when we don’t have a common enemy? Per Hilbert, it forces our social consciousness to look inward and look at ourselves. This brings forward the bevy of social justice issues — whether real or perceived — that have been cropping up across the country, he said. 

This civil unrest has likely been goaded by outside forces. His example is that of Russian and Chinese actors running the largest sets of bots and fake accounts that are searching and publicizing social issues in the United States — essentially forcing the national government to focus on the domestic crisis and is thus unable to focus externally.

“This is all done through data manipulation. Parties collect data on people, communities, et cetera, and profile them and pander their manipulation of data to those groups to sway opinions,” he said. “They do this by appearing as legit media outlets or government agencies to make people believe them. Mainstream media picks it up with limited background, and now it must be true.”

And unfortunately, the media retractions are often buried or lost in the news cycle. This leaves a few paths for the news consumer — accept the media’s narrative, or lose trust and turn to seek like-minded people and develop a cult mentality.

“This is the threat against the US. We can’t trust because everything is being manipulated.  We have nowhere to turn for the truth because the news is now about grabbing eyeballs via click bait headlines rather than reporting facts,” Hilbert said. 

He likened the follow up of the recent shooting of Jacob Blake. While the police were called for a domestic violence incident, along with a perpetrator trying to steal a car with children inside, there was a group looking to sow discontent in the United States by leaving out the crime — simply publishing “Police Shoot Black Man in the Back” — intentionally leaving out context. 

“If you can control beliefs, you can get people to fight each other and that can all be done through data, not guns or bombs,” Hilbert said. “It is a cyber-enabled attack, meaning it is a real world attack that can be expanded via the Internet.”

This isn’t a crazy conspiracy or anything like that, either — the idea of Psy-Ops has been used in limited capacity, like Radio-Free Europe (and mentioned in a previous post in this very blog). 

“Data manipulation based attacks have been red-teamed by multiple groups in multiple nations,” Hilbert said. “If you use it on an adversary there is nothing stopping them from using it on you.  It’s almost a mutually assured destruction type scenario. The US is using it on its foes and they are using it on us in return.”

Want to hear more from EJ? Check out his brand new podcast, “My Junk,” and come hear him give our Day 1 Keynote at the Data Connectors SoCal Virtual Cybersecurity Summit on Oct. 14.


Interview: EJ Hilbert on the Post-Pandemic …

Hot Topics in Cybersecurity Posted by Jen Greco on Sep 30, 2020

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