The terms cyber war and infowar have been a constant in many articles written about the conflict in Ukraine. The problem with the terms is that the concepts are so new that definitions vary from an ignorant "troll" rant to a hacker that destroys the controls on a dam. The troll is an annoyance. The dam that burst that kills hundreds of people in their sleep is not. The military definition of a cyber attack revolves around real world injury, death, or damage.
Then there is an in-between world where most freelance cyber mercenaries work. Their job is to get as close to the threshold of an obvious cyber attack as they can without crossing that line. They are the freelance contractors that countries like Ukraine are hiring to find and target enemies (any person not supportive of Ukrainian Nationalism or taking what appears to be a pro-Russian stance).
Hiring freelancers gives them a veneer of plausible deniability for the consequences and responsibility. The means, methods, and anonymity of cyber do the rest.
In the early 2000's, cyber freelancer Aaron Weisburd pioneered using cyber and coordinating online/offline attacks on activists, journalists, and alternate media websites. Early in the decade he found out by throwing around terms like "supporting terrorists" he could get internet providers to shut down websites. He could get employers to fire employees. His group could force social and civic groups to shun his victims. After all, who wants to consort with "terrorists." Weisburd found out he could even get local banks to close checking accounts. He did this by networking with a few thousand like-minded people that hacked social accounts and planted "evidence," and complained about his victims to Homeland Security and the NSA.
Today he works with the Ukrainian Information Ministry and Ukrainian Ministry of Defense with the Peacekeeper project. With his current employ, Weisburd has scaled up his operation. Just in Ukraine Peacekeeper has over 40,000 people working on the project. Ukraine intends to be the world leader for destroying nonconformity to "anti-western" thought.
The methods he employs are considered to be crimes under international law. When applied to a conflict like the Ukrainian war his methods fall under crimes against humanity according to the Tallinn Manual on Cyber War. The reason according to the manual which is defining Cyberwar is that you can not attack civilians or non-combatants. Even if the attack is non-kinetic(direct), attacking civilians is an act of war.
The damage to people and property is no less real than a dam bursting. But because it starts in the cyber world, the locations of the victims can be thousands of miles apart. It makes it very difficult to piece together the connections and tie all the victims to the same event (planned cyber attack) even if you are looking for it.
The social fabric of the internet is what makes this possible. How many people online are "good friend" that you have never met? This still new online phenomena is the area that the cyber-merc exploits.
What does it mean to be attacked by freelance cyber-mercs? Antiwar.com readers are about to find out.
On October 13th, 2015 Justin Raimondo published an article at Antiwar titled "The New McCarthyism." The article very briefly mentions Weisburd in a not so flattering light.
" The sheer kookiness of this anonymous obsessive is truly a sight to behold: here is his diagram of "problematic social networks" of alleged "Kremlin agents." One imagines he stayed up all night working on it, crouched over his computer, his eyes gleaming with fanatic energy,..."
The question is if the troll Weisburd had a problem with Justin Raimondo's article, why not write him directly? If Weisburd were just an annoying troll, why not write "trollish" comments?
Like his neo-Stalinist comrades at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, the Libertarian, Justin Raimondo moved up on Weisburd's to do list a few notches. What Weisburd is referring to is the methodology described above in the article.
Antiwar.com has a daily readership of over 30,000 people. It's metrics are superb. Google ranks it as a PR 6 which puts it in an enviable and authoritative position in search results. It all sounds untouchable by an internet troll. But wait...