LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas will host an international conference April 6-7 devoted to understanding cybersecurity threats emanating from Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Among the issues in focus will be the global spread of disinformation, which in recent years has undermined trust in electoral democracy, hindered efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic and stoked violent conflicts.
The conference coincides with Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the false evidence Russia’s leadership used to support it shows how disinformation can be deployed on social media to advance military aims on the battlefield,” said Erik Scott, associate professor of history and director of KU’s Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies (CREES).
Reflecting the threat Russia poses to cybersecurity, this year’s Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. intelligence community designated Russia as a “malign influence” for the first time.
Organized by CREES, KU’s Office of Graduate Military Programs (GMP) and the Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence (ICCAE), the conference will bring together experts in academia, the military, the intelligence community and the private sector for a far-ranging discussion of the past, present and future of cybersecurity and the ways that states, societies and individuals can respond to the challenges posed by disinformation.
The conference begins at 7 p.m. April 6 at the Kansas Union with an introduction by Barbara Bichelmeyer, provost and executive vice chancellor, followed by a discussion with Trent Maul, director for analysis of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Chad Ludwig of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Col. Mack Curry of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The discussion will be moderated by GMP Director Mike Denning, who also leads the ICCAE, a workforce development program to increase diversity across the U.S. intelligence community. Maul, Ludwig and Curry are all alumni of KU who now serve in leading positions in national security.
The conference will continue from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 7 at the Burge Union, with panels devoted to disinformation campaigns, the weaponization of social media and the ways that scholars and policymakers can respond to such challenges. KU Chancellor Douglas A. Girod will deliver introductory remarks at 9 a.m. Speakers over the course of the day include Debora Pfaff of the National Intelligence University, Benjamin Peters of the University of Tulsa, Vasily Gatov of the University of Southern California, Mia Bloom of Georgia State University, LTC Michael Stokes of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Aric Toler of the online investigative organization Bellingcat, George Amariucai of Kansas State University, Lukas Andriukaitis of Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and Alex Bardas, assistant professor of electrical engineering & computer science at KU.
The conference is supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI program as well as the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The complete conference program is listed below. The conference is free and open to all, but advance registration is required. To register, please visit https://iccae.ku.edu/conference-registration-form.
April 6: Jayhawk Room (Kansas Union)
- Introductory remarks by Barbara Bichelmeyer, provost and executive vice chancellor
- Q&A with Director Trent Maul, Defense Intelligence Agency; Col. Mack Curry, Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Chad Ludwig, Defense Intelligence Agency
April 7: Forum AB (Burge Union)
8-8:55 a.m. — Breakfast
- Introductory remarks by Chancellor Douglas A. Girod
- Keynote by Director Trent Maul, Defense Intelligence Agency
10-11:30 a.m. — Cybersecurity, Disinformation, and Storytelling
- Debora Pfaff, National Intelligence University, “Lie to Me”
- Benjamin Peters, University of Tulsa, “Russian Hackers, Cold Imaginations”
- Vasily Gatov, University of Southern California, “Recycling the Cold War Playbook? Political and Military Narratives in Russian Influence and Disinformation Campaigns”
Moderated by Erik Scott, KU associate professor of history and CREES director
11:30am-12:30pm — lunch
12:30-2 p.m. The Weaponization of Social Media and the Fate of Democracy
- Mia Bloom, Georgia State University, “When Social Media is Weaponized: Contrasting Jihadi, QAnon, and Russian Disinformation”
- Michael Stokes, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, “The Decay of Reason? How Globalization, the Internet and Social Media Empower Non-State Actors and Diminish Nation-State Influence”
- Alex Bardas, University of Kansas, “Technology Use and Cybersecurity in Activism and Elections”
Moderated by Kirk Sampson, security analyst for KU Office of Global Operations & Security
2-2:15 p.m. — coffee break
2:15-4 p.m. Investigating and Responding to Russian Intelligence Campaigns Online
- Aric Toler, Bellingcat, “Hunting the Hunters: New Digital Methodologies of Investigating Russian Spies and Security Service Officers”
- George T. Amariucai, associate professor of computer science, Kansas State University, “Modeling User Manipulation on Social Media: The 2018 Russian Troll Twitter Database”
- Lukas Andriukaitis, Atlantic Council, “The Method to Their Madness: Kremlin Disinformation”
Moderated by Mike Denning, KU Office of Graduate Military Programs.