Cyberbombs and ISIS - Dilbert Blog

Cyberbombs and ISIS

According to the news, the United States is stepping up its use of cyber attacks and psychology against ISIS. For example, our cyber forces are creating fake messages to send ISIS fighters to the wrong places.

Update: Here’s more about current efforts.

But the funniest part is that the U.S. military is openly bragging about their cyber tricks. That’s because the bragging makes the tricks stronger. We want ISIS to distrust 100% of their communications. That way we can use a few fake messages to destroy the credibility of all.

The trained hypnotist in me wonders how much damage you can do with fake messages. Obviously it is useful to send fighters to the wrong place, and it helps our cause that ISIS can’t trust any of their digital communications. But how much deeper into the minds of ISIS fighters can we go?

For context, think about how many times you have created trouble for yourself by sending unclear text messages. Our military could study the classic texting errors and weaponize them.

For example, one of the biggest mistakes in texting involves showing insufficient affection for the situation. Let’s say you enjoy an evening of passionate love-making with a new person and you follow up in the morning with this as your first and only message:

“Did you find my sock?”

Now imagine the leader of an ISIS unit asking headquarters whether they should attack a well-defended position, and incur heavy losses, or wait for reinforcements. Imagine we intercept the communication and send back a message that is the equivalent of “Sure, go ahead and attack.” The words might be right, but the tone would be way off. It’s hard to go on a suicide mission when it sounds optional. 

Another way to make people crazy by text is to be unclear. For example, imagine ISIS getting a message that says: “It would be wise to retreat, but we know you will keep fighting for the cause.”

The message could be taken two ways. Did ISIS leaders just call the fighters stupid, or did they exhort them to fight against impossible odds for the good of the cause? It’s hard to tell.

Another big source of tension with our day-to-day text communications is timing. If you ask someone a sensitive question via text, you always pay attention to how long it takes for a reply. The time it takes to reply tells you something (right or wrong) about the intention of the message. For example, if you send a sexy message to a new lover, but you don’t get a reply for hours, you probably interpret that as a lack of sufficient interest.

We could do the same thing with ISIS. All we need to do is slow down the replies to messages that seem emotionally important. That introduces all sorts of doubt. The timing becomes part of the message, and undercuts it. 

Another way we get in trouble with text messaging in our normal lives involves sending a message to the wrong person and then trying to explain it away. Your explanations always sound like lies, even when they aren’t.

So imagine a fake ISIS message to a starving fighting unit that says their food and reinforcements will be there soon. Then quickly follow up by saying the message was meant for another group. That’ll cause some trouble.

You can play this game at home. Think about all the ways you have created trouble for yourself via text messaging or email and then think how that concept can be weaponized against ISIS. Let me know in the comments if you have some ideas.

You probably saw the news about Cruz and Kasich “colluding” to deny Trump the nomination. That probably helps Trump because it is exactly the sort of thing that makes the system look rigged. It plays to his story, somewhat perfectly.

If you think ISIS is dangerous, you should see my book.