When Public Reaction Exceeds The Actual Hack : NPR


A State Department report on Russian online operations to promote conspiracy theories and misinformation. Some analysts also warn of “perception hacks,” when relatively small-scale hacks are uncovered and then widely discussed by government officials, news organizations and on social media.

Jon Elswick/AP


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Jon Elswick/AP

A State Department report on Russian online operations to promote conspiracy theories and misinformation. Some analysts also warn of “perception hacks,” when relatively small-scale hacks are uncovered and then widely discussed by government officials, news organizations and on social media.

Jon Elswick/AP

A Russian group acquired U.S. voter data in at least a couple of states. The Iranians reportedly did the same. President Trump’s campaign website was briefly defaced.

As expected, this election season has brought a series of computer breaches and disinformation efforts coming from other countries. So how do we sort out the serious threats from mere cyber mischief?

There’s no easy answer, but at least there’s a catchphrase: a “perception hack.” This describes a relatively small-scale intrusion that probably won’t cause much actual harm, yet it may have an outsized psychological impact once it’s uncovered and enters the public bloodstream via government officials, news organizations and social media.

“We see malicious actors attempt to play on our collective expectation of wide-spread interference to create the perception that they’re more impactful than they in fact are,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, wrote in a blog post. “We call it perception hacking — an attempt to weaponize uncertainty to sow distrust and division.”

In some ways, a perception hack is the flip side of what happened during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

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