Security experts warn of Russian disinformation targeting global audiences

Tuesday 07 Jun 2022

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Security experts have expressed growing concern over the weaponisation of disinformation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, describing the information domain as ‘a key battleground in Russia’s war in Ukraine’, in an article published on Tuesday 7 June by the Centre for Emerging Technology and Security (CETaS), a new research centre based at The Alan Turing Institute.

It comes as the Government’s Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser for National Security, Dr Paul Killworth, calls for a ‘coordinated effort across government, academia and industry’ to maintain the UK’s strategic advantage in emerging technology, speaking at the launch of CETaS.

The authors describe the ‘significant role’ that information operations have played in the war, suggesting that ‘the Russian public is the first and most important audience for Russian disinformation.’ The second focus of Russian disinformation is said to be the people of Ukraine, ‘with the desire of instilling fear and stoking disaffection with the Kyiv government’. 

The authors also discuss how Russian information operations seek to promote ‘pro-Russian and anti-Western narratives’ among international audiences in China, India, Africa and the Middle East. 

They describe how emerging technologies can enable ‘the rapid proliferation of disinformation in the digital sphere’, but also provide new opportunities to interpret public data and counter its spread, such as using artificial intelligence to automatically recognise military vehicles from satellite images, or machine translation to allow analysts to interpret information in other languages. A significant development is the use of public data and open source intelligence, which has been pivotal in allowing large populations of citizens to debunk false information. 

But the authors also refer to the emergence of 'fake fact-checking outfits’ on pro-Russian social media channels that claim to ‘debunk Ukrainian generated “fakes” showing destroyed Russian military units or devastation of civilian infrastructure by Russian strikes.’ They note that any international war crimes trial will take time and successful disinformation campaigns could muddy the waters in the court of public opinion, much sooner. 

Speaking at the launch of the new Centre, Dr Paul Killworth, the Government’s Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser for National Security, described how ‘science and technology are increasingly an arena for competition between states’, and that ‘countries which establish a leading role in these emerging technologies will be at the forefront of global leadership’. 

Dr Killworth described artificial intelligence and data science as ‘among the scientific building blocks for our future success’, emphasising that ‘our ability to understand and master those changes is more critical than ever before’. 

The Centre was described as an ‘innovative approach’ that will help to ‘maintain the UK as a leading voice in international security’. 

Sir Adrian Smith, Institute Director at The Alan Turing Institute, said: “The launch of this centre comes at a crucial time – technology is advancing at an increasingly rapid rate and emerging technologies present both opportunities and threats to UK national security. Our centre will bring together defence and security expertise from around the world to ensure that policymakers have access to the highest quality analysis and research. It will provide us with new opportunities to keep the UK safe and we’re delighted to be launching this centre today.”

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