More than a year has passed since republican former President Donald Trump sought to ban popular short-video app TikTok from the US app stores. Not much has changed since then, and TikTok is still under close scrutiny.
In August, Reuters reported that the Chinese government bought a 1% stake in TikTok owner ByteDance's key Chinese entity, Beijing ByteDance Technology. The deal also allowed the Chinese government to appoint a board director at Beijing ByteDance.
In October, TikTok's head of public policy for the Americas, Michael Beckerman, became the company's first executive to appear before Congress. Reuters reported that he was pressed mostly by Republicans on worries regarding TikTok's stewardship of data of the app's users.
He was questioned whether TikTok could resist giving data to China's government if the materials were to be demanded and insisted that the company does not share information with the Chinese government. Beckerman said that TikTok has "no affiliation" with Beijing ByteDance Technology.
As TikTok's ownership remains a pressing issue for many, Safe House Global is hosting a warfighter exercise on 19 November. On TikTok, the hashtag "#militarytiktok" has over 1 billion views. Military personnel from America and around the world use the platform like they might any other social network.
Three teams of military, cybersecurity and private sector experts will respond to a hypothetical scenario in which The Chinese Ministry of State Security has ordered ByteDance to provide access to TikTok's codebase. By doing so, China would theoretically be capable of launching a program to identify US military members, their families, location, travel habits, and potential for compromise, espionage, and disinformation campaigns.
"Cyber is the battleground of the modern era. Certain hypothetical but realistic scenarios could pose serious consequences to the world order as we know it," Jeffrey Carr, Founder of Safe House Global and author of Inside Cyber Warfare, said. "Because of the volatile nature of global geopolitics, we should see these as very real threats. One of the best ways to understand and assess risk is to wargame a scenario, which is why we're hosting this event and exercise. The scenario will demonstrate the tangible national security risks that both the US and Chinese governments recognize exist in information manipulation on social media platforms today."
The Social Media Information Warfighter Exercise will demonstrate how highly refined AI systems that power programmatic advertising, and global social media apps can be leveraged by adversaries employing the tactics of irregular warfare.
The exercise is an adaptation of The Information Warfighter Exercise Wargame Rulebook published by the RAND Corporation and based on exercises that the Marine Corps conducts twice a year. Each of the three teams of two-to-three players has several weeks to prepare a plan to address the threat scenario.
Their key objective is to deny, disrupt, or deceive the Ministry of State Security's ability to target US military service members via TikTok, with both sides leveraging algorithms, deep fakes, malware, app tracking, and ad targeting to achieve victory. A roll of the dice will insert challenges that team members have to adapt to and overcome. The panel of judges will then score each team between 1-20 to determine the winners.
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