Even paranoiacs have enemies—especially, as this pointed treatise has it, when they post on social media.
It’s not just that the cyber bad guys, who are legion, are trying to crack your codes and hack into your machines; they’re trying to leverage who you are to influence what you buy and who you vote for. Watts, a cybersecurity expert with a long resume in military and civilian intelligence, writes, “I wake up most mornings and wonder which of my enemies will strike back at me today.” Those enemies are legion, as well, for the author was early in sounding alarms about the “troll armies” and swarms of bots that came spilling out of Russia in 2014, pushing out pro-Russian content and exploiting political divisions (pro– and anti–Black Lives Matter, for example) that would eventually come to a head with the Trump campaign. By way of suggestive example, Watts charts the responses of those trolls when the news of Trump’s vulgar, predatory Access Hollywood remarks came to light, when WikiLeaks immediately pushed out thousands of emails pilfered from the Clinton campaign and “dropped dribs and drabs of stolen information to continue powering the social media storm” against the Democrats. In the end, writes the author, the Russians got what they wanted—“an American reality show star spouting Russian propaganda lines” as president—and there’s more to come, for social media itself is a target, as are American institutions and companies. Against this, Watts proposes a seal-of-approval, Consumer Report–type campaign to certify a given media outlet along two measures: “fact versus fiction in the content it produces, and subjective opinion versus objective reporting.” Moreover, he suggests a bit of reverse social engineering: Target a troll, prank it, troll back, feed it misinformation, and otherwise trap it “in an information battlefield where things are only partly what they seem.”
A solid, highly useful owner’s manual for a leaky internet—and a damaged democracy.