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The United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), the part of the military tasked with conducting offensive cyber operations, is attempting to stop Russian operatives from interfering in American elections by sending them direct messages, the New York Times reports.
Certain USCYBERCOM members have been permitted to identify, track, and send warnings to Russian trolls attempting to influence the upcoming midterm elections.
Senior defense officials say the messages do not include threats but are designed to let Russian operatives know they have been identified and “could be indicted or targeted with sanctions.”
Details surrounding the mission, which remain scant, do not include whether the Russian trolls are being contacted over social media platforms like Twitter or other avenues such as email.
The limited approach is intended to lower the risk of a dangerous escalation that could lead to Russia targeting more critical U.S. systems.
News of the operation follows Friday’s charges from the U.S. Department of Justice against Russian national Elena Khusyaynova, who has been accused of attempting to “sow discord” by spreading disinformation in advance of the midterm election.
While the scope of the current mission appears to be limited, USCYBERCOM could adopt a more aggressive posture in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order last month on national cyber strategy.
The new guidance, which rescinded Obama-era rules designed to regulate how the U.S. carries out cyberattacks, is intended to allow the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to conduct offensive operations more easily and often.
Russia also made headlines Tuesday after U.S. cybersecurity firm FireEye accused the foreign adversary of developing a strain of malware reportedly used in an attempt to destroy a Saudi Arabia petrochemical plant last year.
Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.