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Romanian Ambassador Emphasizes Cybersecurity Amidst Fake News and Bots at George Washington Talk

By Carrie Snurr

Cyber security is an increasingly prevalent risk that countries across the world have had to address as more and more systems operate through the internet.

On Wed., Dec. 6, Ambassador of Romania, George Cristian Maior spoke on the topic at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University as part of the International Cybersecurity Leaders Forum.

Maior touched on topics including traditional cyber attacks and the rise of disinformation on social media platforms. He presented three questions to frame the debate about cybersecurity in his opening remarks.

“What is there to protect? Against whom? With what kind of strategy,” He said. “We need to consider that we have now reached a stage where our lives, health, prosperity, well-being and our critical values can disrupted not just through attacks against what is called critical infrastructure but against an ever expansive list of soft targets.”

Romania Cyber Security

Romanian Ambassador George Maior delivers his opening remarks at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University on Dec. 6. (Photo: GWU)

He pointed to increasingly pervasive use of information technology to highlight his point. Information technology is used to store information including medical records, electrical grid systems and flight information which, because they are online, can be susceptible targets in cyber warfare and have all been targeted.

The International Cybersecurity Leaders Forum is a series held by GW and welcomes foreign leaders who focus on cybersecurity to the campus.

“I had heard from all of my colleagues that Romania is a country that pound for pound, punches way about their weight when it comes to cyber-related issues,” Center for Cyber and Homeland Security Director Frank Ciluffo said in his introduction of Maior.

“Not only have they structured and organized things in an innovative way, but most importantly, I found the people to be innovative, entrepreneurial and incredibly dedicated and devoted.”

Cybersecurity has become a focal point after increasing levels of attacks on countries worldwide. It has been an important topic in Eastern European countries such as Ukraine and Estonia after high profile attacks.

Estonia experienced a large-scale denial of service cyber attack that nearly crippled the country’s government in 2007. Intelligence officials believe that, in Ukraine, disinformation, widely believed to have originated in Russia, contributed to the result of the Crimean Referendum in 2014.

George Washington University Romania George Maior Cybersecurity

Maior and Center for Cyber and Homeland Security Director Frank Ciluffo discuss the importance of cybersecurity in the wake of allegedly Russian-linked troll/bot farms and denial of service attacks. (Photo: GWU)

The United States has experienced data breaches in the government and in private businesses. In a high-profile attack in November 2014, a hacking group linked to North Korea by U.S. intelligence officials leaked confidential data from Sony Pictures prior to its release of the movie “The Interview.”

In the past, attackers have mostly been criminals seeking monetary gain, Maior said. But increasingly, attackers have been nation states and terrorist organizations for political and ideological objectives. Those actors have been able to build up sophisticated “cyber arsenals.”

“This sophistication has reached a level where states, some states, now employ proxies and use tactics such as false flags in order to conceal the true source of attack and thus claim plausible deniability,” he said.

Russia has been well known for its cyber attacks and operations on other countries. Maior pointed to Russian cyber attacks in Estonia, Georgia, the U.S. and Ukraine. He added that Russia has meddled in political campaigns in many different European countries.

The U.S. is currently investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. The Trump campaign is currently facing an investigation into whether it colluded with Russia during the election.

Intelligence officials linked Russia to large-scale trolling and advertising campaigns on Twitter and Facebook during the election. Both social media companies have revealed ads and troll accounts on their platforms who were linked to Russia.

Maior highlighted the danger of fake news and fake information in his talk.

Fake news has been used by the Trump administration to admonish U.S. newspapers for what it deems biased reporting. But, fake news has been an issue that’s risen to prominence in 2016 and 2017, especially following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

George Maior Romania Cybersecurity GWU

Maior describes the rise and prevalence of fake news to be a majjor concern because fake news can lead to assumptions and decisions based on that misleading information. Fake news has been used to influence the Crimean Referendum in Ukraine and in the United States 2016 Presidential Election. (Photo: GWU)

Fake news can be generated through trolls or through websites. During the 2016 election, many Russian-linked trolls and bots were able to flood hashtags, such as hashtags about the conflict in Syria, with false and misleading information.

Disinformation can create false pressure on leaders and policymakers to make certain decisions. It can create a false consensus because bots are able to post thousands of tweets, or example, in a single day.

“What I want to highlight is this insidious connection, fake news and fake analysis based on this fake news and ultimately fake conclusions that can lead to wrong decisions,” Maior said.

“Most governments ave compiled lists and ranked sectors deemed critical infrastructure on the assumption that a materialized attack against any of them will affect the greatest number of citizens for an extensive period of time,” Maior said.

“The list of such sectors is bound to expand every time attackers identify new vulnerabilities to target. This means that we must try to be just as flexible as our opponents.”

He added that often, the advantage is with the cyber attacker, rather than the governments trying to defend against those attackers.

Romania has faced cyber attacks but the attacks have not been sustained attacks on what it has deemed critical infrastructure. The country has seen an increase of attempted cyber attacks in 2017, Maior said.


Carrie Snurr is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.



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