By Robert Hackett
July 8, 2017

A great thing about hacking, if you’re Vladimir Putin, is it’s so hard to prove. Just look at the recent “NotPetya” attacks that fried computers in the Ukraine and around the world: It’s two weeks later and still there’s no consensus among security experts if responsibility lies with Russia, vigilante hackers, or someone else.

This attribution issue offers tactical advantages for the Kremlin such as letting Russia use hacking to make mischief in ways that are even more subtle than its assassins’ signature polonium tea. But hacking also lets Russia further its strategic goal of spreading “dezinformatsiya.”

As the New York Times explained last summer, “The fundamental purpose of dezinformatsiya, or Russian disinformation, experts said, is to undermine the official version of events — even the very idea that there is a true version of events — and foster a kind of policy paralysis.”

Hacking is an ideal vehicle for “dezinformatsiya” because in many cases it really is hard to establish a “true version of events.” And in a stroke of good fortune for the Russians, the U.S. has elected a President who seems to believe, when it comes to cyber attribution, that hard is the same as impossible.

“Nobody really knows,” President Trump said in Poland this week, casting doubt on whether Russia had indeed meddled in the U.S. electoral process. He made the statement despite stacks of intelligence reports that the Kremlin did exactly that, and even though Congressional leaders from both parties don’t dispute the meddling either.

Trump’s behavior amounts to a kind of intellectual nihilism that holds that, if even a few people deny a fact, it’s impossible to say it’s true. By this logic, we should also respect those who say 9/11 was an inside job, the moon landing was staged and creationism is real. Except that those people are flat-out wrong—and so is Trump when it comes to Russia’s election hacking.

But for Putin, the former KGB man, Trump’s eagerness to dive down Russia’s rabbit holes of lies and doubt (on display again in the screwy statements that followed Trump and Putin’s two-hour meeting) are a giant strategic success. Russia’s dezinformatsiya campaign couldn’t be going any better.

Jeff John Roberts


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


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