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Deception in the digital age : exploiting and defending human targets through computer-mediated communications
Malin C., Gudaitis T., Holt T., Kilger M., ACADEMIC PRESS, Cambridge, MA, 2017. 284 pp.  Type: Book (978-0-124116-30-6)
Date Reviewed: Sep 14 2018

The basis of deception is misdirection: it amounts to making something insignificant seem important, while really relevant things go unnoticed. This strategy is used not only by spammers, crackers, cyber criminals, and cyber terrorists, but also by banks, credit card institutions, airlines, telephone companies, and almost all kinds of small and big businesses. For example, covert agents in online social network chat rooms try to spread fake news and conspiracy theories, always for the benefit of certain groups. Other pernicious tactics are false flag operations (falsely attributing a post to someone), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of someone, targeting his/her reputation), and so on. Companies and artists sometimes hire “finstagrams,” or fake Instagram and Facebook accounts, to increase their sales.

This book is a journey from the traditional deception methods used by magicians to their modernized versions. It is not a book on mathematical tools, computer tools, or logical methods for cyber security. Instead, it focuses on the sociological and “psychological principles and strategies ... used to deceive and manipulate” people today.

Misdirection is indeed not a new phenomenon, and thinkers such as Sun Tzu, Plutarch, and Niccolò Machiavelli have made significant contributions to the tactics and philosophy of misdirection. Important lessons from the The art of war still hold true today:

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. [1]

It is not an excessive exaggeration to describe deception in the digital age as “the art of war with connectivity.”

Here is a very short review, chapter by chapter. The introduction attempts a “cyberanthropology” of deception, and examples from the past will convince readers that deception is not anything new, just different in the Internet Age. Chapter 2 examines how the power of storytelling is used in urban legends, hoaxes, and chain communications to captivate, compel, and bluff an audience, and how it has been adapted to computer-mediated communication. Chapters 3 and 4 evaluate psychological techniques as well as the social structures in business, advertising, politics, and military activities that help to deceive customers, users, and opponents, with special attention to the underground cyber markets.

An important topic treated in chapter 3 is how messaging is processed in persuasion. The authors emphasize the dual process models as the ones that best explicate the cognitive pathways. These models, examples of which are the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) and the heuristic-systematic model (HSM), propose that there are two distinct routes by which messages are processed. Although not mentioned in the book, dual process models are suggestively close to the two-system approach to judgement and choice popularized by Daniel Kahneman [2].

Chapter 5 is devoted to “deception strategies and techniques used in phishing and watering hole attacks” in light of Internet connectivity, with editing software and powerful digital cameras. The influence of online video and photography is examined in chapter 6, with many examples. Chapter 7 shows how cyberattacks and cyber terrorists use online deception to specify narratives that sell cyber network operations. Chapter 8 describes how the Internet, weaponized by psychological techniques, plays a formidable role in cyber warfare; how nation states as well as non-nation state actors participate in this new kind of war; and the future of cyber war.

Chapter 9 is dedicated to honeypots, honeynets, and honeytokens, the “sweet deception.” Used as decoys, much like animals are lured into a trap, some machines can be used to distract adversaries from more valuable machines on a network. Filled with false data and all kinds of misdirection, they may gather additional information about the attacker. Chapter 10 focuses on deception in the future, that is, how new technology and cyber communication will bring new and creative methods of deception.

Unfortunately, this book leaves the reader with the false impression that only malefactors practice deception and misdirection. It does not touch on the deceptive acts practiced by all kinds of businesses, from banks and airlines to telephone companies and Internet providers. Increasingly working against consumers, many companies make huge profits from the Digital Age. Unfair practices such as bait-and-switch, angel dust (the insignificant presence of beneficial stuff, for example, food with essential vitamins and minerals in irrelevant amounts), acceptance of a contract by default, telemarketing tricks, and several others, are greatly assisted by the Internet.

The “newly created magic,” as the authors put it, has deep social and human consequences from both outside and inside the capitalist society. In conclusion, even if imbued with a partial view, this book is for readers who are genuinely interested in understanding the sociological basis of deception in the human sphere. I recommend it to this audience.

More reviews about this item: Amazon

Reviewer:  Walter Carnielli Review #: CR146243 (1812-0631)
1) Tzu, S. The art of war. Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2009.
2) Kahneman, D. Thinking, fast and slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, NY, 2011.
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Deception in the digital age: exploiting and defending human targets through computer-mediated communications
Malin C., Gudaitis T., Holt T., Kilger M.,  ACADEMIC PRESS, Cambridge, MA, 2017. 284 pp. Type: Book (978-0-124116-30-6), Reviews: (3 of 4)
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