Russia has had a direct role in cyber crimes for many years now. (Image courtesy of Global Panorama / Flickr)
The Literacy Guild

Opinion: Russia’s international cyber crimes

In face of overwhelming odds, Donald Trump, an amateur politician, won the 2016 presidential election against Hillary Clinton with an overwhelming 304 to 227 electoral votes. However, Donald Trump lost the nationwide popular vote, becoming the fifth president to do so.

According to a CNN report in late 2019, investigations by the FBI and other government intelligence agencies have led to the conclusion that Russia had interfered with the 2016 presidential elections, with the goal to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

In another official FBI report, released by CNN in March 2019, it is shown that Russia influenced the media in order to promote Trump’s image, as a pro-Trump campaign ordered by Putin himself. Russian hackers, ordered by the government, hacked Facebook and uploaded pro-Trump and anti-Hillary ads in lieu of the normal ones. Other Russian trolls went on other popular social networking platforms, such as Pokemon Go, to promote Trump.

In several states, Trump won by a narrow margin, and in those states, it was shown that Russian hackers were involved in the pro-Trump campaign that influenced many voters to vote for Trump. In the 2016 election, everyone expected Hillary to win; however, Trump won, against all odds, by a huge electoral margin. 

For a majority of Trump’s presidency, Russian involvement had been largely hidden while under surveillance by the FBI. Once evidence of their meddling had been exposed, this begs the question, how else is Russia influencing the international internet and how are they using it to their advantage?

Russia is using its powerful army of hackers in order to indirectly attack areas or countries of interest to Russia in order to spread their dominance over the world.

Russia has been known to be a prominent culprit of cybercrimes across the world, using their powerful government hackers to enforce their power over other countries. Such an example would be in 2010 when the Russian government unleashed a cyber weapon they designated as “Snake” or “Ouroboros” onto Ukrainian cyberspace, performing computer network exploitations, as well as computer network attacks, according to The New York Times in 2014. This attack crippled and wreaked havoc in Ukraine’s government systems, as well as siphoned classified government information from local computers to other servers. 

Between 2014 and 2016, Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity technology company based in California, reported a Russian cyberattack, on Ukraine, again, targeting its army’s rocket forces and artillery. The attack was successful, with 80% of Ukraine’s artillery pieces rendered completely useless, the highest loss in artillery pieces in the army ever. These attacks against Ukraine effectively cripple it’s government and military, giving Russia a chance to strike should a drastic event be needed, due to Ukraine being a subject of interest to Russia. 

Russia has continued to be the world’s perpetrator in international hackings, and this has recently been shown again, this time using the African countries of Ghana and Nigeria to disguise their meddling in the 2020 US presidential elections.

According to a CNN news report, Russia’s goal is to, “inflame divisions among Americans and provoke social unrest.” CNN experts who follow Russian disinformation campaigns explain that this time, they did this through trolls in Ghana and Nigeria to influence the US media. 

The trolls went on large social media again, such as Facebook and Twitter, to post graphic images portraying racism against blacks and using language that denounces the US, which prefers to be seen as a peacekeeping country of democracy, instead of calling the country a “fascist police state”, as quoted by @RootsRevival on Facebook, a troll account based in Ghana.

Workers for the Eliminating Barriers for the Liberation of Africa organization were ordered by Russia to create fake troll accounts in bursts ever since the group registered in June 2019, according to CNN. Their activity stopped; however, after a raid in February and after Twitter suspended accounts on their platform. The accounts claimed that they were American and wrote their posts in English, but they were actually operating from Nigeria and Ghana, according to the same CNN post

The trolls also engaged in conversations about social issues with the goal to sow discord in our nation. Many of them focused on racial issues and portrayed themselves as African Americans suffering from racism in the US and from police brutality. They were also closely tied with the official Black Lives Matter organization, although they aren’t willfully associated with them, as said by Darren Linvill, who was a Clemson University professor working with CNN in tracking the Ghanaian operation. They talked almost exclusively about what was happening on the streets in the US and not on the streets in Africa. 

After a raid by Ghanaian security forces, they determined that the EBLA workers were receiving funds from an anonymous European country and later told CNN that the funds came directly from Russia. According to special counsel Robert Muller, as reported by CNN, Russian operatives working for the Internet Research Agency used black activist accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to urge Americans to vote for third-party candidates or sit out the election entirely in order to disrupt the 2020 elections and the American community as a whole. 

Although the main Russian trolls have been wiped out, there are still many more trolls working through social media to divide us and cause social unrest in the US and around the world, starting with the upcoming 2020 US presidential election.