Monday, February 9, 2015

A digital world full of ghost armies

In the Second World War, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops based in Tennessee was formed mainly by artists, architects, actors, designers and engineers. The mission of those men was to let imagination fly in order to find out strategies that made the Nazi army lose soldiers and resources without any real danger for the Americans.


It was known as the Ghost Army some years later. It participated in several major battles and it is estimated that it saved between fifteen and thirty thousand lives on the Allied side although it opened fire on the Germans just once.

The Ghost Army instilled fear of regiments that never existed in the hearts of its enemies by allegedly unfortunate comments when drinking at bars in occupied towns. You can see this type of disinformation strategies on social networks everyday. It can even affect a political conflict like the one between Gaza and Israel. There are more tactics to discredit the enemy. In fact, the hacktivist group Anonymous has shut down ISIS’ digital defenses.

The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops used deception to weaken the enemy forces. For instance, it transports mockups of tanks by jeeps, put two men in the front of trucks and two men behind (so it would seem overcrowded), and carried great speakers delivering the sound of military marches and the roar of engines. This very trained choreography has been inherited by some cybercriminals today. A group of Apple employees stole about $ 700,000 in gift cards to the company. What strategy did they follow? They tricked the system using personal data from a dental clinic in Manhattan to ask instant credit to Barclays under the agreement the bank has with Apple. This way, they obtained between 2,000 and 7,000 dollars each time.

For the Ghost Army, the radio unit played a critical role to transmit false orders so that they were intercepted by the Germans. Something similar happens in Google Play everyday. Apps supposedly not compatible with your device are hidden while transmiting remote orders, impersonating you. They weave a web of click fraud apps that slow down your device or even overcharge your phone bill.

Espionage and counterespionage found in such detachment some of methods both governments and companies use today. In this sense, the new Samsung TVs will be continuously listening, as a way to improve their performance, which is a decision that may worry privacy advocates, but should concern to all consumers.

The digital war has already begun and it is as invisible (and effective) as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.

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