There’s never been any doubt that cyber warfare is a unique facet of the national defense apparatus that comes with unique challenges and equally specific best practices. However, there’s something to be said for the Naval tradition of firing “a shot across the bow” of your opponent. The phrase usually refers to firing a warning shot past an adversary’s vessel to let them know that you’re watching them — but in the digital realm, it comes in the form of a simple message.
The Defense Department has been tight-lipped about how exactly that message is being sent, but according to recent statements made by the U.S. Cyber Command, Russian operatives identified by the U.S. military as working to influence or illegally effect the outcome of the upcoming 2018 midterm elections are being contacted directly by American agents and informed that they’ve been outed and are now having their activities tracked. These messages do not include any threat of repercussion or retribution, but according to American Defense Officials, the threat of sanctions should be well understood by those they’ve engaged.
Some might call this effort a measured response to what has been revealed to be a wide-spread and concerted effort to create political upheaval within the United States. Influence efforts tied to the 2016 presidential election led to Americans largely misunderstanding the nature of Russian’s hybrid warfare efforts, as they viewed it through a media-borne scope of Right versus Left. The truth, however, is that Russia isn’t working for the benefit of either political party; they’re working for the benefit of Moscow.
Last week, the Department of Justice unsealed charges against a Russian woman named Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, who has been called the “chief accountant” for Russia’s current influence campaign tied to the upcoming midterm elections. According to the indictment, Khusyaynova and the rest of her group have been operating specifically to “sow division and discord” within the American political structure. She has been tied specifically to the purchase of website domains, Facebook and Instagram advertising, and Twitter accounts, all with the singular aim of promoting divisive content that encourages Americans to squabble with one another.