Modern Mind Control: Public Opinion Manipulation in Our Online World

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 2:00 pm2:30 pm

Robert McArdle, Director FTR – CyberCrime Research


Are your opinions really your own—or how much have they been carefully shaped until you think they are? Today’s digital connectivity makes it possible to share information like never before—traditional borders and constraints of distance simply do not exist anymore. But this same connectivity also makes it easier to manipulate the public’s perception of reality. The term “fake news” has become increasingly common in the past year—but it is only one facet of a much larger problem: the use of technology to alter public opinion, and ultimately affect the real world.

This is not a new phenomenon. At every point in human history where a new disruptive communications technology has replaced another, propaganda and manipulation flourish. Each communication method has its associated societal norms and customs, but these take time to form. What is allowed on television, radio, and print is well established—but the Internet has not reached that level of maturity yet.

I will demonstrate the techniques and methods that have been actively used to this end—and not exclusively in the field of politics. I will review the global availability and costs of such underground services, from Russia to China, Ukraine and the Middle East and demonstrate the affiliation of these activities with other Black Market commodities and services. I will discuss several techniques of identifying such campaigns by processing social media data and show how it is possible to trace those campaigns to the original perpetrators. Finally, I will walk through a number of case studies, demonstrating the links between artificially fabricated events and the executors carrying out those orders.

Robert McArdle, Director FTR – CyberCrime Research

Robert is a Director of Trend Micro's Forward Looking Threat Research team, where he is involved in analysing the latest Cybercrime threats, specializing in researching the future threat landscape, Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and coordinating investigations with international law enforcement. Robert is a regular presenter for the press and at security conferences. He also lectures in Malware Analysis and Cybercrime Investigations on MSc modules at Cork IT and University College Dublin (UCD). He worries that his hobby and job are one and the same, and constantly wonders if "normal" people have that problem. He enjoys long walks on the beach, puppies, and Guinness.

@inproceedings {208125,
author = {Robert McArdle},
title = {Modern Mind Control: Public Opinion Manipulation in Our Online World},
booktitle = {Enigma 2018 (Enigma 2018)},
year = {2018},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},