#OpChile: How Social Media Played a Role in Chile’s Cyberattack
In the year 2019, Chile saw a significant protest against the government. Over 1.2 million people took to the streets of Santiago to protest against social inequality, demanding the resignation of the President. As a result, the security situation in Chile was critical, and metro rail and other necessary infrastructure facilities were damaged. One month later, the Chilean Army confirmed a hacking attack that compromised its email service. This occurred just one month after the hacking of the computer systems of the Chilean Police, arising from the social protests registered in the country.
It was a malware attack. However, social media usage amplified the severity of the episode, as it was used to get civilian support gained through social media. Therefore, the cyberattack in Chile was a case of hacktivism. In this case, we understand the concept of cyber diplomacy in hacktivism, which is a challenge to critical infrastructure, as the perpetrators of violence are present inside the country.
As regards Chile, the context of social instability has had a hacktivist correlate in the #OpChile, a narrative framework that called for cyberattacks against government websites. Although the #OpChile has generally had low know-how and the identities that have joined it showed soft, technical skills in cyber threats, a cyberattack action on the Chilean Police Force, with subsequent exfiltration of sensitive information in the public domain, resulted in considerable visibility of the #OpChile. In that cyberattack action with exfiltration, called by its attacker’s #PacoLeaks, a hacktivist operational sequence may likely be involved, composed of:
An attacking identity that remains anonymous.
An instrumental identity under the 'Anonymous' typology claims the attack on social networks.
Another or other different identities provide an exfiltration infrastructure through a web domain.
The #OpChile called for the second phase of cyberattacks, which resulted mainly in denials of service against government websites and political parties and some minor exfiltration on the public domain. Again, there was an exfiltration of data into the public domain. Under the name of #MilicoLeaks, it was aimed at disclosing email content from several corporate accounts of the Chilean Army. This exfiltration with denial of service attacks on government websites. In addition, some defacements and several series of SQL injections on various websites, so producing exfiltrations of users with passwords in multiple cases and reusing data already compromised in previously-performed cyberattacks.
An external Army provides the Chilean Army’s email service, information security experts say, and is the main communication channel for Chilean defense with other government institutions and private providers. On the other hand, Chilean media indicate that in the information presented; there are some reports on meetings of senior army officials with influential Chilean businessmen, contact with foreign security firms, and cooperation agreements with the US government. Three thousand emails would have been leaked, plus some other documents.
Among the most prominent mailboxes are those belonging to Guillermo Paiva, director of intelligence of the Chilean Army, and Patricio Vegas. In addition, the exposed files were uploaded to an information distribution center, which made them available for consultation worldwide.
After the incident was discovered, the army IT department began implementing security measures to prevent subsequent similar incidents. In addition, it started searching for helpful information to uncover those responsible, a task that is still ongoing, information security specialists say.
The political instability and social discontent prevailing in Chile also have cybersecurity-related repercussions. In recent months, specialists from the International Institute of Cyber Security (IICS) reported the emergence of a database containing multiple details of officials and police officers involved in rights violations scandals against hundreds of Chilean citizens.
A hacker has posted the personal details of more than a third of Chile stations on the internet, including what is thought to be informed about the leader, a Chilean newspaper has reported. Personal data, including the identity card numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, emails, and academic backgrounds of six million Chileans.
According to the paper, the information was posted by someone who hacked into servers at the education ministry, the electoral service, and the military. The security breach was first reported to police early on Saturday by an administrator of a local technology-orientated website who discovered links to the information online. Most of the data were promptly removed, and police investigated the incident.
It is also important to mention that in the case of Chile, there was also detection of the use of seemingly uncontrollable upsurge in disruptive technologies creating a gap in internet governance standards, within and outside the country, adding to the asymmetrical landscape.
Analysis and assessment
One of the definitions of Cyber Diplomacy is about the institutionalization of mutual interest and identity among states and puts the creation and maintenance of shared norms, rules, and institutions at the center of IR theory. It is important to note that in International Relations theory, anarchy is the idea that the world lacks any supreme authority or sovereignty. Anarchy provides the foundation for realist, liberal, neorealist, and neoliberal paradigms of the international relation. However, in practice, traditional Diplomats tend to ignore this aspect and thereby there is seen a gap in cyberdiplomacy as the concept of anarchy also enables engagement in diplomacy through information and technology communication or social media. Also, as per Hedley Bull, there are five functions to the diplomatic practice, i.e., to facilitate communication in world politics, to negotiate agreement, to gather intelligence and information from other countries, and to avoid or minimize “friction in international relations”.
Cyber diplomacy aims to secure multilateral agreements on cyber norms, responsible state and non-state behaviour in cyberspace, and effective global digital governance. The goal is to create an open, free, stable, and secure cyberspace anchored in international law through alliances between like-minded countries, organisations, the private sector, civil society, and experts. Cyber diplomacy coexists with its sister strands of cyber defence, cyber deterrence, and cybersecurity.
“Social media rewards not morality or veracity but virality. Their design is a perfect engine for the fast and widespread information, which makes them so wonderful. But there is a catch: unlike the truth, lies can be engineered to take advantage of that design and move faster and wider.” ~ P. W. Singer
The surge in fake news over recent years has wrought unprecedented effects on the national and international stage, and there is a heated debate between the public, governments, the media, and big tech regarding how best to handle this wave of misinformation. However, no comprehensive action is taken by any of these stakeholders. Also, those in positions of influence are doing little to stop fake news. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that governments are as much to blame as individual actors.
The media tech giants, Twitter, and Facebook have openly invoked their policies to support their decisions to continue hosting malevolent false claims by not tracking down fake news content. This supports the principles of openness and liberalism. It is not for the use of technology platforms that there are unfortunate consequences, but because of lack of knowledge about cyberdiplomacy in social media and public diplomacy context, especially the ones recently seen in Chile when the spread of news against the government can provocate violence.
No clarity in Legislation against Fake News in Chile
Globally there is a notable lack of consistency among human rights organizations using the term ‘fake news. For example, in Europe, there are two resolutions by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) referring to fake news that does not attempt to define the phenomena.
Resolution 2212 (2018), PACE considers “fake news”, “propaganda” and “disinformation” as different forms of manipulation. In contrast, in Resolution 2217 (2018), “fake news” is identified as a form of “mass disinformation campaigns”, which constitute a technique of a “hybrid war”. The Joint Declaration by the special rapporteurs on freedom of expression acknowledges fake news in the title of the document but talks exclusively about “disinformation” and “propaganda” throughout the main body of the declaration. Therefore, within the legislative domain, the concept of fake news is even more ambiguous, as evidenced by the recent debates around the efforts to introduce national ‘anti-fake news laws. Indeed, democracies have not been successful in legislating laws against fake news. It is, therefore, a concern for democracies and their liberal values because most fake news propaganda has the power of steering the masses in a particular direction and leading to unintended political consequences.
Social Media platforms have led to the origin of cyberwars. Revealing a military operation via Twitter would seem a strange strategy, but it should not be surprising given the source. The vast chamber of online sharing and conversation and argumentation and indoctrination, echoing with billions of voices. Social media has successfully empowered hacktivism organisations in Chile helping the group draw thousands of like-minded people. In addition, the Government's lack of engagement in public diplomacy on Social Media also highlights the cause of unrest.
On one side we can take into account that Social media is a vehicle to declare war against any government. But the same government uses the same tool for effective governance. This must be a cybernorm that will stabilize internal conflict. While there are Armies of Twitter bots twisted small, one-sided skirmishes into significant battlefield victories. Hashtags were created and pushed (and others hijacked) to shape and excite the story. This pattern and methodology used are now being studied and used as a political tool to influence debate and stir opinion. As a result, researchers studying ethics call this a dilemma.
To investigate the spread of fake news, a data scientist — Soroush Vosoughi, and his colleagues collected twelve years of data from Twitter. They then looked at tweets that had been investigated and debunked by fact-checking websites. They found that a set of 126,000 “fake news” stories were shared on Twitter 4.5 million times by some 3 million people. They looked at how quickly those stories spread versus tweets that were verified as authentic. As a result, they found that fake accounts reached more people and propagated faster through the Twittersphere than real stories. It was also found that around 80% of flights in schools originated from discussions on social media platforms.
Therefore, Social Media is not a Challenge to Democracy, if used appropriately through well-researched governance mechanisms. The prevalence of social media in spreading disinformation has recently taken precedence in the discussion of the effects of social media. However, there is an aspect of social media disinformation that is often overlooked: its impact on conflict in democracies. Clearly, it has become a platform used by non-state actors and political parties to spread disinformation about other groups as a means to bolster tensions and conflicts. It is important to highlight that many non-democracies censor the content of social media while allowing government officials to pursue propaganda, adding to the asymmetrical dimension of cognitive warfare.
Some have said that confirmation bias is the root of the problem — the idea that we selectively seek out information that confirms our beliefs, truth is damned. But when it comes to believing the fake news about nonpartisan issues, researchers do hypothesize that the novelty of fake news makes it more appealing to share. Studies have shown that people are more likely to believe headlines or stories that they’ve read or heard many times before. They are more likely to share novel stories on social media that are emotionally or morally charged, even if they are not verified. It has to do with cyberpsychology and online behavior. The fact that social media posts that have an emotional message have an amplifying effect. We perceive the content online with much more passion than we do offline.
It is clear from the case that in order to uphold liberal democratic values, Chile’s cyber diplomacy must normalise better engagement with its citizens using new technologies and social media. These disruptive technologies are incrementally enabled by machine- learning, and automation and are also integrated into cyberspace operations propagated by social media. Some call these operations “public diplomacy or propaganda,” while others call them information warfare. This poses challenges with the magnitude of information surpassing governments and authorities and their ability to tackle it. Also, there is little room for decision-making because the time attacks already do the damage identified. One such disruptive technology is Artificial Intelligence. It is found that AI disrupts the system as it can impersonate user behavior and launch sophisticated attacks. While some AI-enabled systems can be used for defensive purposes, the projects cannot be undertaken without the help of private sector entities.
In Chile, Cyberspace has become a significant locus and focus of International relations. While cyber espionage, cyberattacks, hacktivism, and internet censorship are regularly making headlines, the foreign ministry and diplomats of Chile realize the importance of streamlining cyber issues into their foreign policy and have adopted designated practices to achieve their strategic goals objective. However, there is a gap in overall cyber diplomacy, leading to the rise of hacktivists in Chile. Suppose we are to consider the definition of cyber-diplomacy as an emerging international practice attempting to construct a global cyber society, bridging the national interests of states and world social dynamics. In that case, this is still to be achieved in Chile.
It is observed that the role of diplomacy in cyberspace is much less prominent in the media than in stories of cyber incidents. A notable exception was the 2015 cybersecurity deal between US and China. While, for years, both sides had accused each other of network infiltration and of stealing confidential information from companies and government agencies, the bilateral meeting enabled strengthened partnerships between the two countries.
Considering another vital component in Chile’s cyber diplomacy, it is important to highlight that Chile and United States had accused China of stealing or compromising several weapon systems, such as the F-35 and the PAC3 missile. In addition, five Chinese hackers were indicted by the Department of Justice over hacking into several high-profile companies, including the United States Steel Corporation. China has often responded with counter-claims of being a victim of US intrusions. For maturing Cyber Diplomacy in a country like Chile, it is essential to emphasize the role of Diplomats in addressing cyber issues, which despite their rising importance, has remained a peripheral issue in the International Relations literature. A balance between the relations, internally and externally can only be maintained through diplomacy.