[RSAC 2023] Misinformation is weaponized, exploiting the human brain

By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Apr. 25, 2023 2:10AM GMT-7

RSA Conference 2023 ― San Francisco ― Cybersecurity experts warned that misinformation has been weaponized as a growing cyber threat, calling for action within the cybersecurity industry to protect corporations and individuals.

“With disinformation, you are tricked into downloading the exploitable directly into your brain,” said Ted Schlein, the chairman and general partner of Ballistic Ventures and general partner of Kleiner Perkins, at a panel discussion at the RSA Conference on Monday. “We need ways to detect disinformation, assess it, and mitigate it.”

Although there is a difference in the meaning between misinformation and disinformation, the speaker used both words to refer to harmful information distributed online.

Schlein, who has been in the cybersecurity industry for more than 30 years, stated that just as hundreds of thousands of people are lured daily into downloading exploits onto their networks through compromised emails, the attackers are overloading broadcast channels and social media channels with false information and blur the lines between fact and fiction.

Other panel members in the discussion also addressed the prevalence of misinformation as a significant challenge.

Lisa Kaplan, second from the left, is delivering her speech during a panel discussion at the RSA conference held at the Moscone Center on April 24. Photo by Kuksung Nam, The Readable

Lisa Kaplan, the chief executive officer of Alethea, a technology company that works to protect firms from social media manipulation, stated that disinformation has become a “fast, cheap, and easy” tactic. “What started as being primarily a type of attack done by sophisticated actors has now become pretty commonplace,” explained the CEO. “Anybody who knows how to span up an automated network can control what it puts out.”

Furthermore, experts spent some of their time suggesting several ways to fight against misinformation, such as disclosing the source of the information and building a common vocabulary in dealing with the spread of harmful false information.

Yoel Roth, a technology policy fellow of UC Berkeley and a former head of trust and security at Twitter, explained the potential value of technology for dismantling disinformation. “At Twitter, 80% of impressions on most posts happen in the first two hours. If you need to figure out whether some novel claim is true or false, your intervention point is under two hours,” said Roth. “Technology can help add friction to this process. Maybe there is intervention we could offer that could slow down a little bit of that spread and give the truth time to wake up in the morning.”


The cover image of this article was designed by Areum Hwang.

Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and privacy by engaging with industry giants, foreign government officials and experts. Before joining The Readable, Kuksung reported on politics for one of South Korea’s top-five local newspapers, The Kyeongin Ilbo. Her journalistic skills and reportage earned her the coveted Journalists Association of Korea award in 2021 for her essay detailing exclusive stories about the misconduct of a former government official. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, a testament to her linguistic capabilities.