The Weaponization of Digital Technology

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As humans advance further into the Digital Age, we are all more connected than ever before. 

Emerging technologies have afforded us at-home Information Units that play our favorite songs, tablet computers to research different recipes and cooking tutorials, and watches that monitor our pulse and other health indicators, all at the same time.

Everyday gadgets such as these are able to send and receive data and are referred to as the “Internet of Things” or IoT. However, while these connected devices make our lives infinitely easier, there is a dark side to all this connectivity.

Technology Continues to be Weaponized

Like so many technology disruptors before it, the peaceful intentions of the internet have been warped and weaponized by actors with more nefarious intentions. The United States’ Office of Personnel Management (OPM) digital housed information relating to the background checks of government personnel. While computers and networks made storing and accessing the information easier, digitized storage also made the information “hackable.” In June 2015, OPM announced it had been hacked and the national security data breach resulted in 21.5 million stolen personnel records. 

Similarly, entertainment giants use technology to facilitate the creative and editing process, but movies and television shows stored digitally are alluring targets for hackers. In November 2014, hackers targeted Sony Pictures Entertainment and released upcoming movies. In July 2017, cyber criminals illegally penetrated HBO’s networks and released episodes of popular series ahead of schedule. 

Hacks and data breaches don’t just cause national security headaches or cost entertainment companies millions in reputation and advertisements. There are very real repercussions to compromising devices connected to the IoT. Cayla the doll, a seemingly innocent child’s toy, was banned in Germany after several vulnerabilities in the unsecure bluetooth allowed hackers to hear and talk to the child playing with it. Digitized storage poses a threat to the most vulnerable when not properly protected.

Social Media Users Beware

Social media platforms are heralded as the pinnacle of connectivity. Its where soldiers deployed in a combat zone can go to see images of their children being born  and where students studying abroad can see videos of their family pets fetching on demand in real time. But bad actors have found a way to weaponize social media – even engaging in hostile social manipulation or “the purposeful, systematic generation and dissemination of information to produce harmful social, political, and economic outcomes.”

In 2015, the Russian government-linked Internet Research Agency flooded social media channels with fake reports of a chemical plant explosion in Louisiana. The Colombia Chemical Hoax was eventually traced back to a Russian troll farm, but not before the false reports created widespread panic.

Similarly, nearly everyone has interacted with website based “chat bots.” These “bots” use artificial intelligence to guide a customer to the appropriate part of a website or triage inquiries to the appropriate help desk representative. Now, imagine a not too distant future where the features and machine learning of these  improved “chat bots” can be weaponized on social media targeting different celebrities, government officials, and even every day citizens with weaponized targeting and high-level cyberbullying campaigns. 

Corruption of Algorithms

In our current information-centric and data-driven society, algorithms and machine learning are used across industry verticals. They are used for hiring and recruiting, monitoring and predicting consumer behavior, and are even used to provide care options to doctors about our personal health. 

Consider the impact of manipulating algorithms used to automatically reorder food in grocery stores and distribution centers. If these formulas are altered, they could potentially artificially increase the demand of household goods, driving the price down and creating a surplus. This would interfere with the stability of a countries interconnected economy. The economic damage caused by interfering with the global oil market could have drastic consequences. 

Technology and advancements undoubtedly make our lives easier, but it is a double edged sword that can be used to wreak havoc and cause immeasurable damage.


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