Cognitive hacking of an invisible parasite in today’s digital world

Of; Sher Zada

Hardly anyone will no longer be familiar with the term “hacking” when using the Internet in the age of social networks. Every day we hear people complain that their accounts have been hacked or that they are at risk of such attacks. Mostly, the hackers try to reach and control an individual’s or company’s bank accounts, social media accounts to achieve their goals which are aimed at financial gain or other malicious ambitions.

There is another trend of phishing and scamming, the priority is sending emails masquerading as a member of a reputable company offering financial benefits or packages, while the latter is a fraudulent business deal, either on physical or online platforms. The fundamental difference between hacking and phishing/scams lies in the nature of the incidents. In the first case, you don’t even know who is attacking your account. In the other case, there is two-way communication between the perpetrator and the victim. In both cases, however, the victim has no knowledge of the attacker’s intentions.

Although hacking itself is not as much an affected issue as most internet users think it is these days. There are two types of hacking, one is known as ethical hacking which is used to secure the assets and systems of an IT company or organization whereby the IT professionals are given the appropriate permissions to apply hacking skills to to further strengthen the security company and organization. The other is malicious hacking, where the perpetrator conducts attacks with malicious intent to gain access to internet users’ accounts without their proper permission.

However, the risk factors of the above means of data theft are not as dangerous as cognitive hacking, the practice that is trending very quickly in the digital world of information explosion. While news spreads in a snap without confirming if it is real or fake. “Cognitive hacking” is a cyber-attack in which threat actors manipulate the victim’s perception by targeting his/her psychological Achilles’ heels and addicting them to a designed manifesto of perpetration.

To carry out their acts, the perpetrators or groups of perpetrators use disinformation to grab readers’ attention and attract audiences by thoroughly presenting false information in texts, seductive audio podcasts, and suspenseful and thunderous video broadcasts. Most of the time, this is done to attract consumers’ attention to like, subscribe, share and retweet the content created or edited by the perpetrators. Cognitive hacking causes riots, protests and creates challenges for individuals and businesses, and headaches for government agencies. The era of information explosions and exploitation of social media platforms are the key elements that brought about the alarming trend of cognitive hacking.

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According to Finance Online’s November 2022 report, more than half (50.64%) of the world’s population now uses social media, and out of 4.57 billion internet users, 83.36% are active users. Such excessive social media users have presented challenges to the professional journalists where they have struggled to bring truth-based news at once while following the canvas of journalism ethics. The digital gadgets i.e. smartphones, tablets, camera-enabled smartwatches and other wearable devices are widely used where information worth millions is uploaded in a disinformed way to gain popularity or fame to get other social media users to like, share or subscribe to move his profile. That, on the other hand, caused an autopsy of real information.

Most social media platforms i.e. Meta (Facebook), Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram etc use an algorithm setting that brings together the news, videos, photos and audios that a social media consumer has viewed once and a Series of them displaying items for the consumer. Whenever a consumer scrolls the screen, the algorithm aligns similar trending materials that appear on the screen in front of the consumer. While this is not due to black magic, yes, it is the cognitive hacking that works in the background. These male informed and disinformed messages are shared by a social media consumer with his/her family, friends and others connected to him/her on social media platforms.

As a result, when real and accurate news needs to come, the fake news has already impacted social media users’ cognitive sphere and mobilized their psychology to bluntly believe in false information causing chaos in society. Nonetheless, the world is regarded as a global village nowadays, not only the underdeveloped and developing countries are facing such cognitive hacking challenges, but also the technologically advanced developed countries i.e. United States, Russia, Great Britain, China etc. are under a black shadow of cognitive hacking.

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The storming of the US Capitol in Washington DC on January 6, 2021 can be considered as one of the incidents of cognitive hacking in the United States, where the motive of the storming was to pressure Congress to secure the victory of the current US failing to acknowledge President Joe’Biden by accusing him of being an enemy by mob supporters of Donald Trump, through social media campaigns, has shared images of riot police through projection and textures as violent violations of human rights and US laws. Such cognitive hacking has also been used in the Russia-Ukraine war, where the states of both countries, including their allies, implicate social media users in fake news and disinformation and use them as a tool to enlist world support in their favor. The cognitive hacking scenario is also used in India, Pakistan and the rest of the developing countries of the world.

In November 2022, an online digital website NapoleanCat reveals that there are 46,451,900 active Facebook users in Pakistan, accounting for 21% of the total population. Most of them are men – 77.2%. People aged 18-24 are the largest user group (17,100,000). The largest difference between men and women occurs among those aged 25 to 34, where men top the list with 12,700,000. It’s not clear if each person has a single social media account on a given platform or multiple accounts. On April 1, 2019, AFP reported that Facebook had removed 103 pages, groups and accounts associated with the Pakistani military. Similarly, on June 4, 2021, Facebook revealed that there are 6.5 million fake accounts on its platform, out of which 40 Facebook accounts, 25 Pages, six groups and 28 Instagram accounts are operated from Pakistan and involved in the spread of disinformation were involved. Most of these accounts claimed to be representatives of the Pakistan Army. The cyberwar of fake news and disinformation knows no territorial boundaries and is deployed everywhere and in every arena that used to be limited to the media industry realm. However, cognitive hacking is one of the most powerful psychological tools employed by its perpetrators with various projected goals. However, there are certain techniques that can play a role in protecting us from becoming a victim of cognitive hacking. First. When someone comes across a message that is quite tantalizing to mental emotions, a cross check should be done to find out its authenticity before posting it on someone’s social media account. Second, a message received in the form of social media banners, graphically well-designed images, video content should not be hastily shared with others without prior confirmation and authentication. Thirdly, keep avoiding following those profiles, groups and pages that catch your attention to keep clicking on hyperlinks or links to other pages. There is a serious risk of both traditional hacking, i.e. account hacking, and cognitive hacking, i.e. invisible driving of one’s perception Be addicted to certain content and digital implants developed by hacker minds. Fourth, if you get pinged about financial offers in personal messenger or email, you don’t need to get upset right away. However, if you are interested in such investments or offers, research the firm or company thoroughly rather than relying on online communication with someone via chat or email. The above techniques can help a vigilant to protect against malicious hacker attacks.

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To address these challenges, organizations dedicated to safeguarding the ethics of professional journalism continually work to train professional journalists to overcome these challenges of misinformation, disinformation and male information. There is an urgent need to combat this threat by states developing effective strategies to disrupt the trends of fake news, disinformation and cognitive hacking, as well as global cooperation among countries around the world.

The author is a journalist, sociologist and social analyst and can be reached at [email protected]