Disinformation and hacking the power grid

Interesting study (via Schneier) on how to use disinformation to attack the power grid. In essence, one is trying to game the profit-maximizing behavior of consumers (in this case, through fake information on discounts in electricity used during peak times), nudging them in precisely the opposite direction of market signals, hence overloading the grid. The general obscurity of electricity pricing for the consumer (much of which may be by design) is an important enabler of this hack.

Inter-institutional trust deficit

Piece in Axios about tech companies’ contingency planning for election night and its aftermath. The last paragraph sums up the conundrum:

Every group tasked with assuring Americans that their votes get counted — unelected bureaucrats, tech companies and the media — already faces a trust deficit among many populations, particularly Trump supporters.

In this case it is not even clear whether a concurrence of opinion and a unified message would strengthen the credibility of these actors and of their point of view or rather confirm sceptics even further in their conspiracy beliefs.

Authoritativeness of intelligence briefings

Good article about the politicization of the US Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence briefings with regard to alleged Russian disinformation activities during the presidential campaign. Beyond the merits of the specific case, it is interesting that within the federal system a chief purpose of DHS’s intelligence gathering is to provide broader context for local law enforcement; however, given the competitive nature of the US intelligence ecosystem, perceived politicization of one agency leads to a loss in authoritativeness compared to other parts of the intelligence community. This would be a self-correcting mechanism. If, on the other hand, such briefings were not primarily intended as a guide for action but as an instrument for the steering of public debate, a sort of public diplomacy, their perceived internal authoritativeness would not matter so much: they would still provide official cover for decisions taken along sympathetic ideological lines. One single tool cannot fulfil both these tasks well, and shifts in public perception are extremely hard to reverse.

Schools as digital front lines

Politico‘s Andrew Atterbury reports a DDoS attack against the Miami-Dade public school system in Florida today, disrupting the beginning of the Fall semester. Although no sensitive data was stolen, hundreds of thousands of students were prevented from attending class. Of course, the problem with schools as an institution is that its own “customers” are not always committed to the integrity of the service

The marketplace scam as paradigm

Good article by Zoe Schiffer in The Verge on Instagram scams. In thinking about trust and its abuse it is important to remember how general the problem is, especially in marketplace interactions, and what institutional boundaries have evolved in all societies over the ages to police it. Thinking about misleading commercial behavior can be a useful baseline in modelling issues of trustworthiness in many digital domains (such as surveillance, algorithmic decision-making, platform content moderation, electoral disinformation, and so forth) where interactions do not immediately and obviously entail an exchange of goods and services in the market.

Research on politics