Russian Cyber Terrorism and the United States: A Research Proposal

Introduction

Cyberattacks have become a political weapon relatively recently, but this new development poses significant threats to the national security of countries all over the world.1 For example, in 2016, Russia performed a number of activities aimed at interfering with the federal elections in the United States (US). Among other things, the interference involved hacking operations; specifically, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army is reported to have stolen and leaked a large amount of information from the networks of the Democratic National Committee.2 Therefore, the interference involved politically motivated cyberattacks aimed at affecting the outcomes of the elections.

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Whether the attacks qualify as cyberterrorism or cyberwarfare is arguable; typically, these terms are meant for events that result in significant harm, damage, and fear, and the common examples are disruptions of vital networks and infrastructure.3

However, it cannot be implied that the election interference did not have any negative repercussions for the people of the US,4 which may justify the application of the label. In addition, the allegations of similar attacks and interference were also made regarding other countries’ elections,5 in particular, in France.6 Overall, the use of cyberattacks to affect the outcomes of elections appears to have become a problem, which justifies the choice of this topic for a research project.

This paper presents the key information on a proposal for a case study of the cyberattacks used as a part of the interference of Russia in the US elections of 2016. Here, the choice of the topic will be justified, the research question will be discussed, and the theoretical framework and methodology will be outlined. In addition, a preliminary source list will be offered for consideration.

Research Question and Its Justification

Cyberattacks are becoming an increasingly significant threat to global security, which warrants their analysis.7 In addition to that, the particular type of attacks that target elections can be considered a threat to democracy,8 which makes it especially important to consider. The fact that the Russian interference demanded and demands attention is also acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Justice; according to its recent report, this event became another demonstration of Russia’s interest in affecting the politics of the US while compromising the country’s democratic principles.9 In addition, the topic has attracted the attention of researchers who analyze this and other similar events from multiple perspectives.10

Thus, politically motivated cyberattacks require investigation to ensure their prevention and appropriate responses to them. One of the approaches to countering attacks, including those associated with cyberterrorism, is counterintelligence.11 Therefore, the consideration of the use of strategic intelligence for preventing or responding to the issues that are similar to the electoral interference can yield important information.

For the proposed project, the research question can be formulated in the following way: how can strategic intelligence be used in countering Russian cybercrime and cyberattacks against the US as demonstrated by the Russia-US electoral interference of 2016? Based on the literature already studied, it can be hypothesized that counterintelligence is a significant terrorism-prevention tool.12 However, the research question prompts an in-depth exploration, and the specifics of the uses of counterintelligence will be determined through the analysis of the project’s case.

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While certain studies on the topic already exist, the evidence is limited, and there do not appear to be many recent peer-reviewed articles that focus on the role of counterintelligence in the electoral interference.13 At the same time, the improved understanding of addressing such situations is a necessary lesson that should be learned from the event. Therefore, the proposed study can contribute some information to the research on this important case of political cyberattacks with consideration of its implications, especially those related to the use of counterintelligence.

Theoretical Framework

This project is meant to employ the rational choice theory (RCT) as its primary framework. In brief, RCT is a theory which suggests that people are rational beings, and their actions are dictated by rational choices that result from the consideration of the benefits and disadvantages of an action.14 The limitation of RCT is that humans are not always rational, which restricts its applicability.15 However, a major advantage of RCT is its ability to identify the factors that might encourage or dissuade criminal behavior.16 Thus, RCT provides a framework for analyzing criminal behaviors and proposing ways of preventing them.

The theory can be applied to terrorism,17 as well as cybercrime.18 It can also be argued that the case which was chosen for this study is especially well-aligned with it. After all, the significance of elections for a given country is massive, and historical precedents demonstrate that the ability to influence such an event has always been viewed as a valuable political opportunity.19 Therefore, the rational choice theory might explain the motives for electoral interference. In turn, the understanding of these motives would provide guidelines for the determination of intelligence-based solutions to the problem. Thus, the framework should enable an in-depth analysis of the case and help in testing the research hypothesis.

Research Design: A Case Study

The project’s methodology can be defined as a case study; the interference of Russia in the US federal election of 2016 is the studied case. As a type of research design, a case study is employed when a particular case is worth investigating in a comprehensive manner that takes into account its complexity and interrelation with its context. 20 Given that the electoral interference is a remarkable example of a particular brand of cyberattacks, it is worth investigating in detail. It is also planned to make this study a single-case investigation; the electoral interference is a rather extensive topic, and by focusing on one event, the project will be able to ensure its in-depth analysis.21

In addition, the proposed project will be descriptive; it will describe the ways in which the counterintelligence was (or was not) used during and in response to the electoral interference.22 Data collection will be carried out by analyzing the documents that have been used to record the data about the case; this approach to gathering information is among the common ones for case studies.23 Therefore, the project will be a qualitative single-case study that will use documents and their analysis to respond to its research question.

Preliminary Literature and Conclusion

The information regarding the case, as well as cyberattacks and cyberterrorism in general, will be gleaned from recent scholarly sources. However, the official publications of the US government, especially the Mueller report,24 will be a key source of data as well. Furthermore, books and articles will also be used to get some information about the project’s framework and methodology. Reliable scholarly and governmental sources will provide the information necessary for this single-case study to describe the role of counterintelligence in the electoral interference and respond to the project’s research question.

Preliminary Source List

Bagchi, Aniruddha, and Tridib Bandyopadhyay. “Role of Intelligence Inputs in Defending against Cyber Warfare and Cyberterrorism.” Decision Analysis 15, no. 3 (2018): 174-193. Web.

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Baines, Paul, and Nigel Jones. “Influence and Interference in Foreign Elections.” The RUSI Journal 163, no. 1 (2018): 12-19. Web.

Barnea, Avner. “Big Data and Counterintelligence in Western Countries.” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 32, no. 3 (2019): 433-447. Web.

Hansen, Isabella, and Darren J. Lim. “Doxing Democracy: Influencing Elections Via Cyber Voter Interference.” Contemporary Politics 25, no. 2 (2019): 150-171. Web.

Kaiser, Robert. “The Birth of Cyberwar.” Political Geography 46 (2015): 11-20. Web.

Klein, John. “Deterring and Dissuading Cyberterrorism.” Journal of Strategic Security 8, no. 4 (2015): 23-38. Web.

U.S. Department of Justice. “Report of the Attorney General’s Cyber Digital Task Force.” Web.

U.S. Department of Justice. “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election.” Web.

Bibliography

Bagchi, Aniruddha, and Tridib Bandyopadhyay. “Role of Intelligence Inputs in Defending against Cyber Warfare and Cyberterrorism.Decision Analysis 15, no. 3 (2018): 174-193. Web.

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Baines, Paul, and Nigel Jones. “Influence and Interference in Foreign Elections.The RUSI Journal 163, no. 1 (2018): 12-19. Web.

Barnea, Avner. “Big Data and Counterintelligence in Western Countries.International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 32, no. 3 (2019): 433-447. Web.

Dhami, Mandeep K., and Jennifer Murray. “Male Youth Perceptions of Violent Extremism: Towards a Test of Rational Choice Theory.The Spanish Journal of Psychology 19 (2016): 1-10. Web.

Hansen, Isabella, and Darren J. Lim. “Doxing Democracy: Influencing Elections Via Cyber Voter Interference.Contemporary Politics 25, no. 2 (2019): 150-171. Web.

Kaiser, Robert. “The Birth of Cyberwar.Political Geography 46 (2015): 11-20. Web.

Klein, John. “Deterring and Dissuading Cyberterrorism.” Journal of Strategic Security 8, no. 4 (2015): 23-38. Web.

Ramana, M. V., and Mariia Kurando. “Cyberattacks on Russia—The Nation with the Most Nuclear Weapons—Pose a Global Threat.Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 75, no. 1 (2019): 44-50. Web.

U.S. Department of Justice. “Report of the Attorney General’s Cyber Digital Task Force.” Web.

U.S. Department of Justice. “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election.” Web.

Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2018.

Footnotes

  1. Robert Kaiser, “The Birth of Cyberwar,” Political Geography 46 (2015): 13. Web.
  2. “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election,” U.S. Department of Justice. Web.
  3. John Klein, “Deterring and Dissuading Cyberterrorism,” Journal of Strategic Security 8, no. 4 (2015): 23-25. Web.
  4. Paul Baines, and Nigel Jones, “Influence and Interference in Foreign Elections,” The RUSI Journal 163, no. 1 (2018): 15-16. Web.
  5. Isabella Hansen, and Darren J. Lim, “Doxing Democracy: Influencing Elections Via Cyber Voter Interference,” Contemporary Politics 25, no. 2 (2019): 150, 162. Web.
  6. Baines and Jones, “Influence and Interference,” 12.
  7. M. V. Ramana, and Mariia Kurando, “Cyberattacks on Russia—The Nation with the Most Nuclear Weapons—Pose a Global Threat,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 75, no. 1 (2019): 44-46. Web.
  8. Hansen and Lim, “Doxing Democracy,” 150.
  9. “Report of the Attorney General’s Cyber Digital Task Force,” U.S. Department of Justice. Web.
  10. Baines and Jones, “Influence and Interference,” 13-15.
  11. Avner Barnea, “Big Data and Counterintelligence in Western Countries,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 32, no. 3 (2019): 437-438. Web.
  12. Aniruddha Bagchi, and Tridib Bandyopadhyay, “Role of Intelligence Inputs in Defending against Cyber Warfare and Cyberterrorism,” Decision Analysis 15, no. 3 (2018): 174-175, 189. Web.
  13. Bagchi and Bandyopadhyay, “Role of Intelligence,” 2.
  14. Robert Willison, and Paul Benjamin Lowry, “Disentangling the Motivations for Organizational Insider Computer Abuse through the Rational Choice and Life Course Perspectives,” ACM SIGMIS Database: The DATABASE for Advances in Information Systems 49, no. 1 (2018): 81-82. Web.
  15. Mandeep K. Dhami, and Jennifer Murray, “Male Youth Perceptions of Violent Extremism: Towards a Test of Rational Choice Theory,” The Spanish Journal of Psychology 19 (2016): 1-2. Web.
  16. Dhami and Murray, “Male Youth Perceptions,” 2.
  17. Willison and Lowry, “Disentangling the Motivations,” 81.
  18. Dhami and Murray, “Male Youth Perceptions,” 1.
  19. Baines and Jones, “Influence and Interference,” 13-15.
  20. Yin, Robert K, Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2018), 15-16.
  21. Yin, Case Study, 16.
  22. Yin, Case Study, 286.
  23. Yin, Case Study, 132.
  24. U.S. Department of Justice, “Report on the Investigation.”
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StudyCorgi. (2021, August 23). Russian Cyber Terrorism and the United States: A Research Proposal. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/russian-cyber-terrorism-and-the-united-states-a-research-proposal/

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StudyCorgi. "Russian Cyber Terrorism and the United States: A Research Proposal." August 23, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/russian-cyber-terrorism-and-the-united-states-a-research-proposal/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Russian Cyber Terrorism and the United States: A Research Proposal." August 23, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/russian-cyber-terrorism-and-the-united-states-a-research-proposal/.

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