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Christopher Burgess
Contributing Writer

The Ukraine/Russia information war is forcing companies to choose a side

Mar 02, 20225 mins

Both Russia and Ukraine are making demands and requests of companies to help control information around their conflict. However they respond has consequences.

Social media threat / danger / risk >  Text bubbles interact, one bearing skull + crossbones
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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has a very visible aspect as we see Ukrainians stand and fight the Russian military might. The geopolitical landscape is changing by the hour, as more governments take action to restrict Russia’s ability to wage war. Two aspects of the conflict have percolated to the top. These are the “information war” and the “war on information.” The actions of governments are creating a conundrum, for some, of business or conscience.

Directives and requests will come from the CEO/board. It will be the CIO, CISO and biz ops who will shoulder the implementation.

“Whether tech companies want to be or not, many now have to decide what role they play in a geopolitical conflict—in some cases for the first time. Geopolitics and technology have always been linked so decisions must be based on corporate culture and values. It is not enough to stay neutral, by the way, as neutrality is still a choice and still has implications, and the world is watching,” observes John Stewart, president, Talons Ventures, and cybersecurity career executive.

The information war

CISOs across the globe are opening their emergency action plans and ensuring they are prepared for a cyberattack, supply chain disruption, and the continuity of their business. As the geopolitical landscape has adjusted, company products are assisting or preventing the combatants from achieving their goals.

Ukraine, for example, on February 28 requested Cloudflare to remove its services from their Russian customers and to block Russians and their entities from using their services. Similarly, Ukraine is asking for global assistance to engage in offensive cyber operations. One may deduce the removal of Cloudflare’s services would make their customers vulnerable to cyber threats that Cloudflare mitigates.

The European Union decided on February 28 to make all information available via the satellite facility in Madrid to Ukraine, to include information specifically in reference to Russian troop disposition. The EU commented how its relationship and decisions concerning Russia would no longer be based solely on trade.

The war on information

This display of kinetic warfare is making its way into our living rooms via mainstream media and social networks—unless you live within Russia. There a different story is being projected to the populace via the government constraints on media and the internet.

The Russian Federation has greatly limited the type of information that media outlets are allowed to share and going so granular as to prohibit the use of certain words such as, “war”, “invasion”, and “conflict.”

In addition, Russia has constrained the Russian populace from western social networks by blocking them at the internet gateways. Thus, their efforts have effectively limited the news to that which fit into the “official” brackets.

Ukraine has asked cable operators and social networks to block from Ukraine those channels that are emanating from Russia, such as Sputnik, RT and Rossiya1. The government has also asked that Meta curtail its services (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) out of Russia to limit disinformation that the Russians may be attempting to put forward.

Similarly, Apple received a government request to curtail access to the Apple AppStore for customers in Russia. The intent was to force the millions of app users to begin inquiring as to why and learn that their country was engaged in conflict, far beyond the scope that is being described in Russia’s mainstream, government-controlled media.  

Distinguished Russian analyst Molly McKew described in her treatise “Fulcrum, abyss, salvation” how Ukraine has “absolutely crushed the information domain.” Which has largely negated the Russian attempts to shape the conflict’s narrative, and have the West, “tell that story on their behalf were utterly overwhelmed by Ukrainian mythmaking. We saw bravery, we saw heroes, we saw resolve, we saw determination — but more importantly, we saw skill, and creativity ….”

In addition to the satellite information, the EU has pledged its full support to Ukraine to counter Russia’s disinformation efforts.

What of the need for companies to have their eyes wide open to the situation on hand? Few companies have a geopolitical analyst on staff and rely on third parties for perspective and then squeeze it into their instance. For example, recognizing the shortcoming, Flashpoint Intelligence has opened its platform to all so decision-makers have access to the finished reports re Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which contain their analysts’ insights on the threats that may lay ahead.

Companies need to find their best answers

There are right answers, wrong answers, and best answers.

When this writer reached out for comment, he encountered a general unease. While many companies appear to be hoping they are not put in the position to be asked, they should prepare themselves. As Stewart noted above, they may find themselves in the position for the first time, to make a choice—a choice, even a waffle of indecision, which may have long-term implications.

Christopher Burgess
Contributing Writer

Christopher Burgess is a writer, speaker and commentator on security issues. He is a former senior security advisor to Cisco, and has also been a CEO/COO with various startups in the data and security spaces. He served 30+ years within the CIA which awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Cisco gave him a stetson and a bottle of single-barrel Jack upon his retirement. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century”. He also founded the non-profit, Senior Online Safety.

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