Disinformation campaigns could not only impact the European elections

May 17, 2019

The elections for the European Parliament (EP) will be held in a few days. Since the data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica during the last US presidential elections and the Brexit referendum, there has been growing concern that the upcoming European elections will also become a target for cyber attacks, hack and leak tactics and disinformation campaigns.

Yet manipulation and the targeted placement of fake information above all on social media networks not only threatens the stability of society and democracy. They are also increasingly being recognized by companies as a risk to the further success of their businesses. How can companies protect their reputation and their information on the Internet? This is also one of the questions that will be discussed at “Command Control” on March 3-4, 2020 in Munich.

The latest results from research carried out by the European journalist network Investigate Europe reveals that ahead of the European elections the EU members states lack effective tools to combat disinformation, social bots, troll farmers and their creators. It also criticizes the fact that the European efforts to uncover disinformation campaigns – such as the working group for strategic communication East StratCom Task Force from the European External Action Service (EEAS) – are not effective tools for the protection of political discourse or elections in Europe.

In particular, there is too little attention paid to early and decisive intervention in the event of cyber attacks. This was demonstrated recently by the attack on the social media profiles of prominent politicians. “An early response is not only decisive for such hack and leak tactics but especially for campaigns of disinformation. Successful narrative can take full effect in the digital information space within 20 minutes”, explains Tabea Wilke, CEO and founder of the company botswatch Technologies based in Berlin, which specializes in the automated early detection and forensic examination of organized fake information such as propaganda and disinformation.

EU Action Plan against Disinformation

This development threatens social cohesion and sustainably damages the trust citizens have in their institutions, organizations and actors. According to a current Forsa survey, 81 percent of people in Germany believe that democracy is threatened by political disinformation. In the run up to the European elections, the European Commission has thus sought to combat such a campaign with its “Action Plan against Disinformation”. The aim is to guarantee that the elections run smoothly by, amongst other things, developing a rapid alert system, supporting quality journalism and ensuring a coordinated response from online platforms, state institutions and political parties. Sir Julian King, EU Commissioner for the Security Union, believes that it is the Internet companies in particular who have a special duty. According to King, they play a central role in combating the misuse of their infrastructure by hostile parties and ensuring the safety of their users and society.

Alongside the threat of targeted political disinformation campaigns, there is growing concern that the EU parliamentary elections in just a few days will be the short-term target of a cyber attack. In particular, there are fears that the election results will be digitally manipulated. Experts working in the security sector point here to the vulnerability of the IT systems, such as those used in Estonia for electronic voting and in many European countries for the counting of votes and determining the results of the election. The risk is also especially great in the case of the European elections because almost every member state uses their own technology. Every one of these systems has its own weaknesses. Accordingly, there is a high risk that incorrect results will be announced in the election, which could result in a further loss of trust and greater uncertainty amongst the population. As part of an exercise carried out at the beginning of April by the EU Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA), representatives of EU governments and EU institutions were thus already exposed to these types of scenarios so that they are able respond to any cyber attacks on critical network infrastructures.

Disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks are also a threat to businesses

Companies are also increasingly the victims of cyber attacks and targeted disinformation campaigns. According to the latest Cyber Security Report from Deloitte and the Allensbach opinion and market research institute, an increasing number of managers fear manipulation of public opinion using fake news. The percentage of managers who believe that fake news is a major risk has thus risen from 67 percent in 2017 to 75 percent today. Damage to the image of the company is a particularly great concern. The range of possible attacks stretches from targeted attacks on corporate management and campaigns designed to damage the image of products or cast doubt on the creditworthiness of the company through to targeted manipulation of share prices. The damage to company image and reputation resulting from these attacks costs companies significant sums of money every year and often leads to trust issues amongst customers and partners.

Command Control presents forward-looking solutions for cyber resilience

  • Yet how can a company even recognize that they have been a victim of such an attack?
  • What countermeasures are effective? How can disinformation campaigns be combated using a holistic risk management system and by introducing resilience measures?
  • How can trust in a company brand and institution be strengthened in the age of digitalization and cyber security?
  • How can society, political institutions and companies improve their resilience to fake news and cyber attacks on their infrastructures?

Decision-makers and experts from the worlds of business and politics will discuss these and other questions at Command Control in Munich on March 3-4, 2020.

“As an interdisciplinary format, we are presenting and discussing forward-looking solutions, concepts and schools of thought for digital security and cyber resilience”, explains Katharina Keupp, Project Manager of Command Control. The platform at Messe München offers exclusive application and expert knowledge and enables interdisciplinary matchmaking.

Oliver Rolofs
Managing Partner of the strategy consultancy connecting trust and former Head of Communication of Munich Security Conference

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