The COVID-19 pandemic taught us many things. It taught us that ingenuity, expertise, governments, science and very smart and hardworking humans all collaborating together can deliver lifesaving vaccines in record times. This is how Science.org describes it, "Amid the staggering amount of suffering and death during this historic pandemic of COVID-19, a remarkable success story stands out. The development of several highly efficacious vaccines against a previously unknown viral pathogen, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), in less than 1 year from the identification of the virus is unprecedented in the history of vaccinology. (Source: Science.org)
As amazing as this story is, powerful foreign and domestic special interest groups influenced huge numbers of people to believe the opposite. These special interest groups convinced hundreds of millions of people to believe the life saving vaccines were instead part of nefarious conspiracies designed to harm them.
As a futurist studying trends and emerging developments that could greatly benefit humanity in the areas of health, longevity, food abundance, an end to many chronic diseases, sustainability and many others, I wonder how many of these benefits and life saving developments will fall victim to politically motivated groups employing cyber-influence campaigns against them. These groups have already demonstrated an ability to create alternative realities in our minds where good becomes bad, and bad becomes good.
This week Microsoft released a report updating the world on Russia's cyber warfare against the Ukraine and Western nations. This report includes the latest research conducted by Microsoft’s threat intelligence and data science teams. The report details sophisticated and widespread Russian foreign influence operations being used among other things, to undermine Western unity. Microsoft reported they are seeing foreign influence operations enacted in force in a coordinated fashion along with the full range of cyber destructive and espionage campaigns in Ukraine.
One important section of Microsoft's report says, "These ongoing Russian operations build on recent sophisticated efforts to spread false COVID narratives in multiple Western countries. These included state-sponsored cyber-influence operations in 2021 that sought to discourage vaccine adoption through English-language internet reports while simultaneously encouraging vaccine usage through Russian-language sites. During the last six months, similar Russian cyber influence operations sought to help inflame public opposition to COVID-19 policies in New Zealand and Canada.
We (Microsoft) are concerned that many current Russian cyber influence operations currently go for months without proper detection, analysis, or public reporting. This increasingly impacts a wide range of important institutions in both the public and private sectors."
That was Microsoft being concerned. I am concerned. It is critical that we educate ourselves, our elders and our youth to recognize these destruction attacks and understand how these cyber-influence attacks work to influence and harm our societies' thinking. Without being able to recognize and defend against these kind of mind-attacks, these alternative realities, scientist and entrepreneurs can develop the most useful and beneficial innovations that save lives and improve humanity's well-being, only to fall victim again to foreign and domestic cyber-influence campaigns that convince us to reject a better future.
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.