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Cyber-Defense For Democrats! Security Measures For Midterms.

#CyberDefenseForDemocrats

Hello, world!

We have received numerous requests for a focus piece regarding cyber-defense for Democrats, especially right now as we are going into the midterms. In it is an introduction to a number of the techniques we can use to defend ourselves going forward. Knowledge is power. Pass it on.

Regular readers of Millennial Democrats will not require a lot of explanation as to how and why the threat of Russian hacking is real. We have been up against it for years. The time has come to soberly and objectively assess Russia’s cyberwarfare capabilities, and examine how we plan to fight back.

In 2016, America was caught off guard and we got a bloody nose. Guys like Roger Stone’s buddy Guccifer 2.0, or the guys in Fancy Bear pulled a fast one, to be sure.

But it’s important not to overstate the case. It is not accurate to attribute cybernetic omniscience to the Russians and their zany bots and fake news.

They had the element of surprise back then. Most people had no idea what they were doing(and rolled their eyes at those who were trying to warn them, but that’s another subject). These days things are very different.

Regardless of the lies of the great orange malignance, America knows the Russians are out to get us. Trump is sticking his head in the sand on this and will do nothing to help us, so we’re going to have to learn to help ourselves, and each other.

It’s too bad we’ve got no national leadership on this, but it is what it is. We’ll get by on our own.

In starting out, the most important thing to keep in mind is this: Hackers rely on our mistakes, and mistakes are most often made when we don’t know we are making them. They need to catch us off guard, and their job is to find creative ways to use their tools to get us to slip up.

The first place a smart hacker will look is outside the box, so to speak. They’re always looking for ways to burrow in that you wouldn’t think to look for.

Employing a given system, be it a human being or a PC, for a purpose it wasn’t designed for is what hacking means. However, if you’re careful, neither you nor your computer will end up thus employed. It’s all about being careful.

Hackers are clever, be they Russian or from elsewhere, but they are far from invincible. We’ve already stopped a number of Russian cyber-assaults directed at Democrats this year, such as the ones aimed at our Claire McCaskill.

Without the element of surprise, hackers have many limitations. It’s not that easy to brute-force open a website. Just ask these guys:

This is the IP address of a hacker, purportedly from Beijing, who is always doing his best to get in here. Have at it, pal.
This is the IP address of a hacker, purportedly from Beijing, who is always doing his best to get in here. Have at it, pal.

Basic cyber-hygiene techniques would cut down on more than 80 percent of cyber attacks and cyber thefts, according to Herbert Lin, senior research scholar for cyber policy and security at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. It will benefit us to learn a few.

There is a great deal of white-hat(ethical hacking) work that can be done to defend America in this realm, and most of it has to do with how careful we are.

We repeat- It’s all about being careful. This cannot be repeated too often.

Every technique that hackers use, be they DNS attacks against home routers, phishing emails, malware, botnets, or what have you, is ultimately something we can avoid.

In this piece, we’re going to talk about a few common mistakes made by end-users(that means us, the consumer) and how they are exploited by criminals. We’re also going to talk about some of these cyber-hygiene measures and assign them three rules of thumb.

  1. Don’t open strange emails.
  2. Don’t click on strange links.
  3. Don’t accept chat messages from people you don’t know, particularly on Facebook.

Before we get started, think for a second about all your other social media accounts. Are they just as secure as your Facebook or Twitter? Make sure they are! That’s the first place a hacker will go to collect more data about you. You’re particularly vulnerable to having your account on the ones you don’t often use pried open.

As an aside, this is also why you don’t want to use the same passwords for everything. Passwords are obviously critical, as somebody who’s got them has got all your information at his fingertips. Be careful!!

A great deal of a hacker’s job revolves around getting the passwords of their victims. Their most popular tools are all various ways to apply “spear-phishing” hacks, designed to steal passwords and personal data. The unlucky “phish” who opens one has become a victim and is now open to all kinds of trouble.

There are all kinds of ways to go spear-phishing. A brand new one showed up not long ago when U.S. government agencies recently received letters via snail mail.

They came with CDs inside, and they contained malware, according to cybersecurity researcher Krebs on Security. The infected discs were accompanied by a Chinese-postmarked envelope and a “confusingly-worded” letter.

That is just like what they do on Facebook. Hackers make links that look like YouTube videos and various other innocuous things, and they write you some goofy little messages. They look like some cute little harmless thing. Actually, they’re viruses. And you’re hit.

One example that all readers of this blog will vividly recall took place on March 10, 2016, when the first volley of malicious e-mail messages hit the inboxes of thirty people who were closely associated with the Hillary Clinton campaign. Inside them were links that were actually viruses, like worms on a hook.

Nearly all of them were failures. All but one, actually. But one was enough.

Within nine days, a horrendous amount of critical data had been stolen and passed along to Wikileaks, to be strategically released in a way they figured would hurt us. It did.

Those leaked e-mails, in which Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was seen to be fussing over Bernie’s lack of ability to fill out campaign finance forms correctly, were spun up into a narrative that Bernie(who lost by four million popular votes) had been cheated.

Bernie or Bust bought it, there were riots in the streets of Philadelphia, and a rift was torn in the Democratic Party that still has yet to heal.

All of that was made possible, with just a few phished passwords.

To combat phishing is to make sure everyone knows how common and damaging these attacks can be. Everyone should keep their guard up when checking emails, and they should report any email they find suspicious.

It’s necessary to point out here that Facebook phishing in particular is horrendously easy. They can hack you right through your chat box. We recommend in the strongest possible terms that you put as little of your personal information as possible on Facebook.

They save everything. They’re like a gigantic data collection firm, and they’ll sell your personal information to companies like Cambridge Analytica who will use it to hurt us all.

Why risk it?

Facebook presents about a million added vulnerabilities to all of us that use it. When Edward Snowden was asked what to do to keep your data safe on that platform, his response was, “Delete your account.”

We can’t recommend that, as Facebook gives us access to 2 billion people, but we can recommend this much. If people you don’t know send you strange messages on Facebook, don’t accept them.

Facebook was made to brief congressional aides just last week Tuesday about the newest outbreak of anti-Democratic disinformation, which is already said to be evolving into something more sophisticated. Excerpts from that briefing are shown below.

“We are looking at just some of the malicious material that already may be circulating or will be released before the midterms. It also bears repeating that we know the campaign of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was targeted.”

Cyber-intelligence experts see this as being major, and with clear reason.

Moving on, it isn’t only Facebook and social media you’ve got to be careful with. Websites too are vulnerable.

Anecdotally, the webmaster of this site has seen hackers from all over the world try to take us down, from Beijing, China to Lviv, Ukraine, from Adelaide, Australia to Beauharnois, Quebec. They use all kinds of tricks, but they’ve never gotten in and they never will.

This is not because I’m a cyber-genius who speaks binary code, but because WordPress is awesome. Sucuri, the plugin that keeps safe all of us Millennial Democrats, is likewise excellent. They care about their clients and they hold the same liberal values sacred that we do.

WordPress users should strongly consider using Sucuri, not least for the reverse IP trace it automatically performs. This has the benefit of letting you know a lot more about who’s trying to hack you. Sometimes it will tell you everything.

Once a flower store owner from Adelaide, Australia tried to hack us. By using a reverse IP trace, Sucuri let us know who she was as soon as she had done so. Then we went to a site called WhatismyIPaddress.com, put it in, and voila.

We were able to get the name of her business by looking at the name of her domain. We then used that to look her up, and jackpot. We found the store’s address, website, and owner. We also found far-right garbage smeared all over her life.

I could put her on blast right here with a screenshot like this one:

My (possibly) Chinese friend, saying hello to me again. Hi, buddy. Change your ways!
My (possibly) Chinese friend, saying hello to me again. Hi, buddy. Change your ways!

Then the hunter would rapidly become the hunted.

Luckily for her, I’m not that mean. But the next guy might be. It’s a dangerous game for newbies (noobs- learn your hacker-ese) to play. It’s easy to run into trouble.

Change your life, would-be hacker flower store owner! Mend your wicked ways, before it’s too late.

Speaking of WordPress, using the two-factor authentication feature they offer as part of their platform is another good idea. This is a highly effective security measure and is available for Facebook, Gmail, WordPress, and many other major platforms.

Using this feature means a second device’s input will be required to access email accounts or websites on new computers, usually by prompting you and sending an SMS code to your phone or whatever. This can prevent scammers from accessing compromised accounts.

In addition to good cyber-hygiene, which amounts to common sense, caution, and our three rules of thumb, there are some tools we can use to make our online experience safer still. You may find this necessary, from time to time.

A VPN, or virtual proxy network service, will allow you to register as being somewhere that you’re nowhere physically near. It allows you to safeguard your IP address. You do not want hackers to have your IP address, as it can be used to hurt you in a bewildering multitude of ways. This is probably the biggest reason to use a VPN.

Guccifer 2.0 recently made a mistake and forgot to turn his VPN on, and we connected him to an IP address connected to Russian intelligence. Now his whole identity is blown because he didn’t use his VPN.

We strongly recommend getting one of these, specifically IVPN. They take protecting their customers super seriously and they are located on the Rock of Gibraltar. That fortress strikes me as a good place to keep anything valuable.

HotspotShield is another good one, and also NordVPN. There’s a lot of them; shop around and find one that’s right for you. We feel it’s worth repeating that they are a very good investment.

Additional tools include TOR(The Onion Router), which offers a former naval encryption system that we can now all use. Tor takes all your internet traffic and routes it through its own network, providing total anonymity.

The DuckDuckGo browser, which Tor employs, is good to know about also. It has a number of different features that keep you safe, including a “Flame” feature that burns up all your cookies in a second. Pretty cool.

We suggest you learn Linux, because it is more secure, and 99% of viruses are designed to attack Microsoft products. 

Russian hackers have been targeting home routers of individual people en masse, using what is called a DNS attack. We suggest you check your home router often, using the website Secure Router.

Secure Router is a great free feature that allows you to check if your router has been compromised with the click of a button. Doing this regularly cannot hurt and takes less than a second.

In closing, it’s important to emphasize that this is an introductory piece, and not meant to be totally comprehensive. These techniques will do a lot to keep you safe, but nothing is a substitute for doing your own research.

So far, this has not been the kind of cyber war imagined in the past, with nations taking out each other’s power grids before a mass invasion, although Russian malware continues to turn up in our power stations.

It’s more like a new type of proxy war. Like it or not, against our will, we have begun a new phase of the Cold War, on digital battlefields where you meet the enemy directly, but behind a screen.

Now, just as then, there is a need for deterrence, to defend the nation and hopefully prevent a further escalation of tensions. There is more at stake than we can even put into words. We need to be ready.

There are bigger dangers here than the usual America vs. Russia, liberal world order vs the new world order that the extremist crazies keep screaming that they want kind of thing. This is different completely.

One superpower actively destroying the democratic process of another is new and very dangerous, especially since Russian destability tactics rely heavily on disinformation and a systematic devaluing of the truth.

If nothing is true, everything is permissible. And then our entire species starts down the road to guns and roving mobs.

Disinformation and a post-truth reality are unacceptable, and so is Russian interference into our election, regardless of how many Fox News devotees will slobberingly say otherwise.

We have only got one party ready to defend our democracy from the foreign agitators’ who are trying to destroy it, and that is the Democratic Party. Accept no substitutes.

Due diligence is the key. Hackers will look for things you might be neglecting. Get in some good habits and keep yourself alert, because it all comes down to one thing.

If you are politically active as a Democrat, you are not paranoid. You are a target. Defend yourself.

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A Defense Against Fake News- Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.

#StopLying

The news on TV this week has all been very good for Donald Trump, although his job performance has been every bit as lousy as ever. The pattern is clear. Whenever he’s got somebody else to point the finger at, his ratings go up.

The cost of Robert Mueller’s investigation has been thrown up in our faces, as if it were an unnecessary expense, or a service performed just for Democrats. Several of the members of Mueller’s team have been attacked as well, and their motives called into question.

For the record, Robert Mueller left a $3.4 million partner job to serve as the special counsel overseeing the law enforcement investigation into whether the Kremlin and the Trump campaign coordinated to impact the 2016 election, according to documents released on Monday at a request from the Washington Post.

Trump has also been receiving undue credit for the economic bounce that Obama worked eight years to assure us. His moronic provocation of a travel ban finally went through, and so on.

All of this is being slowly made possible by a “post-truth” reality defined by the random slanders of an increasingly demented Trump.

The eminent opinion of Kellyanne Conway notwithstanding, there are no such things as alternative facts. They’re just good old fashioned lies.

But here are a couple of real facts. The new administration has declared war on accurate information. And because of that, every last thing with a shred of decency in American society is either under attack or being twisted to evil ends.

Basically, the truth does not suit Donald Trump’s agenda. So he has resolved upon making a new truth. He’s good at this. It has gotten him through a lifetime.

Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels said that the key to getting people to believe a lie was in repetition, and that the bigger lies were easier to tell then the little ones.

This viewpoint, which denies objectivity and assumes the worst of everyone, is the cornerstone of fascist philosophy. And under Trump, a number of new ideas are being employed as vehicles to carry and spread the new ideas about.

One of these is a project designed to target social media specifically, a mock-TV news report touting the imaginary successes of President Trump. It is being dubbed “Trump TV” on his official campaign Facebook page.

If the Russians have sent in advisers here, they are certainly doing their job.

Earlier this year upon launching the project, the talking head of Kayleigh McEnany made its mouth speak many a falsehood on the August 6 episode of the new administration’s Trump TV project. It looked like a Trump-Pence lawn sign.

“Overall, since the president took office, President Trump has created more than one million new jobs, the unemployment rate is at a 16-year low, and consumer confidence is at a 16-year high”, and so on.

Every bit of it is an exaggeration, a theft of credit from President Obama, or an outright utter lie.

Next to her face, a small screen showed various images of a happy, senile Trump speaking to stadiums packed with adoring fans; underneath the images blared the word “Jobs.”

It all read straight out of 1984.

For now, Trump TV is a small operation, cheaply produced and disseminated through Facebook, but it’s clear it will soon be getting bigger. It’s the spearhead of an effort by media giant Sinclair Broadcasting. It’s troubling in the utmost to watch the new administration both sanction and invent new media mouthpieces through which to spread outright lies. This is not a healthy sign.

Since the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, which mandated that equal airtime and coverage be given to the points of view of both major political parties, we have seen partisan organizations like Sinclair worming their way into buying up the whole apparatus. Now a number of them are no longer even American. This state of affairs is a travesty.

Bill Clinton, the most notable target of syndicated conservative talk shows cited the unbalanced nature of conservative talk radio, where “big money” is fueling “right wing talk shows.” This is why we need to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

It is the opinion of Millennial Democrats that the very first segment of the alt-right’s information pipeline that we have got to sever is the part of it stretching here from Russia.

Former White House correspondent Andrew Feinberg is one of the strongest advocates for this point of view, and he ought to know. He used to work for Sputnik. But these days, he openly admits the site’s content being “foreign propaganda, not news.”

His claim is that organizations like RT and Sputnik hold a pervasive influence on right-wing, pro-Trump, news websites. “Many of the most popular articles about things like WikiLeaks and pizzagate and other conspiracy theories were prominently featured on the Sputnik website,” said Feinberg.

In a recent Politico article Feinberg described parting ways with Sputnik earlier this year. He felt he was being bullied and pressured to pursue fake stories, including the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. He knew that he was being “fed” questions.

A news site which is funded by a hostile foreign government with the express purpose of reporting fake news and brazenly lying to the people of America is an outrage. There’s no other word for it. Any person who doesn’t understand that is one already lost to the opposition.

A journalist sacked by the Kremlin-funded Sputnik news network claimed that right-wing U.S. outlets like Infowars, Breitbart and Gateway Pundit are joined by RT and Sputnik as functioning parts of this right-wing media ecosystem.

The crux of the problem is that we’re not all being given the same information.

Harvard’s Berkman-Klein Center recently produced an analysis of the subject which they entitled Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. In it, they made the following observation.

“We find that the structure and composition of media on the right and left are quite different. The leading media on the right and left are rooted in different traditions and journalistic practices. On the conservative side, more attention was paid to pro-Trump, highly partisan media outlets. On the liberal side, by contrast, the center of gravity was made up largely of long-standing media organizations steeped in the traditions and practices of objective journalism.”

Democrats remain interested in things like truth and reason. The opposition has discarded those virtues as impractical, if not actively detrimental, to their various causes.

Although Fox itself does still usually take the time to bother putting a veneer of professional journalism on their stuff, they still know who a large part of their audience is, and they cater to it.

If you watch Fox News these days, you won’t just find the usual conservative twist anymore. Much of their old content has become too truthful for many of their viewers. It’s not hardcore enough anymore. These people want uglier mud to sling at their liberal foes. A website called Liberty Headlines will tell you all about it.

This is why Fox has partnered with a more extreme conservative media. One resolved on developing the concept to its evolutionary apex: sheer, pure propaganda.

It seems painfully obvious in hindsight that twenty years of media consolidation has been bad for our democracy.

The exaggerations and falsehoods emanating from right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart News have infected mainstream discourse.

Though the Berkman- Klein report we mentioned earlier does an excellent job of laying out the challenge posed by Breitbart and its ilk, it is less than clear on how to counter it. One very interesting solution has been employed by our neighbors to the North, in Canada, with a surprisingly effective result.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, is a regulatory media commission like the FCC. It is not large and it does not often have a need to make the news. But back in 2011, a rather small decision by a relatively small government agency in Ottawa made a pretty big splash.

In April, a major player in the Canadian media scene, Quebecoir Media, planned a launch of what they called Sun News, or Sun TV. It was billed as a Canadian analogue to FOX News, by which they meant a broadcast news outlet with a skewed and partisan conservative perspective.

But Sun News hit a major snag, in the form of a CRTC rule on “prohibited programming content” that includes “broadcasting false or misleading news.”

That rule means that in Canada they can ban lying in the media.

If the human race is going to avoid a significant degradation of its own condition, then we have to maintain our objectivity. We can’t be lulled to sleep by Trump-brand fairy tales.

It’s time we stopped letting wingnut billionaires clutter up our airwaves with their nonsense just because they’ve got the money to throw their weight around. Legislation must be passed immediately to make perfidy in the American news an official crime.

Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again, but America never stopped being great. If we wish to keep that intact, the removal of state-sanctioned falsehoods would be a very good start. Bring back the Fairness Doctrine, and make it illegal to call poisonous deceit the news. It’s really pretty simple. Just vote a straight blue ticket next year, and get everyone you know to do the same. It is time we started doing laundry.

Antisocial Media- Fake News, Facebook, and Russia.

The hounds of Robert Mueller are hot on the heels of Donald Trump. Headlines today read things like “Mueller Goes For The Kill” and “Mueller Closes In“, as the announcement came in that the focus of the investigation has honed in on Russian use of social media as a way to spread fake news against Hillary Clinton.

Russia’s effort to influence U.S. voters through Facebook and other social media is a “red-hot” focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election and possible links to Donald Trump’s campaign ties to Russia, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The Russian Facebook campaign also seems to include the first evidence of Russian operatives attempting to organize actual political events on American soil, as opposed to just spreading fake news and memes around social media.

But Facebook was not alone. Twitter also allows for many ways to pay for your following. For example, comedian Joe Mande has just over a million followers. It sounds pretty good, until you read the bio on his site.

“twitter is trash, facebook’s the devil, i bought a million followers for like $400“. Wow.

The way that social media keeps score, is with Likes, Shares, and Followers. The most famous people have millions of them. However, not all of these accounts are real. Some of them are “bots”, artificial accounts created for the purpose of making a person look more popular and important than they really are.

Twitter Audit, a service that allows you to test the authenticity of your followers, was used in January by journalist Yashar Ali on Trump’s Twitter account. He found that 68 percent of his then-20 million followers were real. He’s at 37 million followers now but only 45% percent are real. Likewise, Bernie Sanders has an even worse score, at 39%.

A personal anecdote. The editor of Millennial Democrats was online alongside legions of others, out there for HRC from 2015 onward, every day, for many hours. Anyone who was there back then can tell you. It can be stated categorically that there was a tangible, palpable disinformation campaign going on. You would go into groups and talk to people, who were steadfast in their refusal to listen far beyond the bounds of reason or even fanaticism. These guys were professionals.

It was like they were getting paid per response. They all seemed to be equipped with the same list of hit points about Hillary Clinton. This became clear after a while because the very same slanders would be laid out every time, in sequential order. In many cases the wording was actually identical, although most took the time to switch about at least a thing or two.

It got especially bad during the last month of the Democratic primary, which was a very horrible time filled with chaos and division. During this time, we were savagely attacked. Anything we posted would be Reported as Spam/Abuse by political adversaries from both the far right and left. We were barraged with nasty messages and threats. One particularly rabid group of Bernie Sanders supporters told one of our contributors that they hoped she was gang-raped. The list is very long, and very sordid.

It was just like in Ukraine or Syria. We were actively being targeted, by foreign agents, for participating in our own electoral process. It was scary, and it was violating.

We had wanted to make our voices heard, and to make a difference in our own futures. Instead, we found ourselves on the front lines of a virtual battlefield, fighting the first skirmishes in this new kind of proxy war we were to be fighting with the Russians.

Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites have increasingly come to be viewed as our most vulnerable area for national security. The United States does not have a ready defense to prevent such attacks.

At the time, nobody wanted to listen, but it became clear before long that we were not paranoid, although it was difficult not to come off that way in real life conversations. We expected a certain amount of eye-rolling, and we got it.

People can hardly be blamed. The whole thing was pretty implausible. Even our intelligence agencies were not fully aware of what was going on. This kind of thing has never happened here before. This sort of attack has in the past been used only by superpowers against small, Third World countries. We were never considered so vulnerable.

The anger and despair caused by the 2016 election opened a door. The smear job on Hillary Clinton represented a quarter- century’s work and God only knows how many millions of dollars on the part of the GOP. They had long ago ensured there was no end of mud to sling. And trusty Wikileaks was always around to make sure there was no shortage of new indecencies.

This, combined with the rabidity and overzealousness of a dangerously high percentage of far-left supporters of Bernie Sanders made for an extremely nasty cocktail of filth for the Russians to fling about on social media, amplifying their messages through a mixture of robot armies and highly targeted advertising.

Regular folks who go to work and don’t have time to study these things for twelve hours a day cannot be fully blamed if they fell for it. We were targeted specifically by a brand new strategy developed by a cunning and ruthless man, bent on world domination. What is most important now is that we all wake up to it.

Millennial Democrats did a series of interviews for this piece from the people most intimately involved. The administrators and moderators of Facebook groups and pages that supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 remain dedicated to the Democratic Party, its platform, and its ideals. We are out here even now, still fighting the good fight.

One source, who has screened new member requests for several dozen pro- Democratic Party Facebook groups since before the election began, made the following statement under the conditions of anonymity.

“From mid May 2017 to the end of July 2017, roughly 80% of the new member request were rabidly pro- Bernie Sanders supporters with profiles that appeared to be hijacked from the real owners or that were simply fake accounts. They seemed to have been created for the purpose of loading them up with pro Sanders, anti Democratic Party fake news to be spread by computer generation across Facebook.”

Even now, it remains far from over. Ordinarily, the months after such a chaotic election would be the slow season for politics. Spring and summer tend to be when people are out having fun. Unfortunately, both the stakes and the polarity of our atmosphere have become too high to allow for this.

Too high a level of polarity will destroy a culture. It causes a communication breakdown which leads to fighting. This polarity was not created by the Russians, but it was systematically financed, and worsened by them, using techniques so ugly they can only be referred to as antisocial media. It is now time for Facebook to answer to Congress and to the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, for what they allowed.

 

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