Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has redefined the impact mainstream technology platforms can have from the front. Quite unlike anything we’ve seen before, the direct reporting on Twitter, Facebook and –for the first time and most important—TikTok was a game changer. It turns out that the invaders’ usual disinformation tactics don’t work so well when an invaded country’s population has the same ubiquitous mainstream social media user base as the rest of us.
This week we’ve seen a different twist on this mainstream technology and modern warfare, with reports that technology embedded in our iPhones can be used to track Russian soldiers stealing devices from Ukrainians. As an adviser to the Belarusian Democratic Movement reported, “the Ukrainians are locating their devices on the territory of the Homel region of Belarus, where part of the Russian army has retreated.”
This story brought to mind Reports from 2020when looters stealing iPhones from various Apple stores across the US triggered some sort of secret proximity software that displayed an alert that “this device has been disabled and is being tracked” and that “local authorities will be notified.”
In this case, the technology isn’t particularly mysterious, although the reach and capabilities of Apple’s “FindMy” network are poorly understood — as is its future impact. The FindMy ecosystem leverages hundreds of millions of Apple devices to create a shadow network that allows a lost or stolen device to connect to other devices via Bluetooth and then report its location to its owner.
This is the same network that was raised Issue when it emerged Apple’s new AirTags could be used as creepy stalking tech. And it’s the same principle that Amazon focuses on Creation of a shadow network on its smart devices, showing the tremendous potential of connecting millions of endpoints.
That this shadow network extends well beyond Putin’s newly strengthened Iron Curtain is interesting in itself. That this has now delivered some form of open source intelligence –Think back to phone tracking used to map population movements in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic– will have an impact on future operational security.
Ditto reports that social media scraps have been used to identify enemy combatants, although social media analysis to track personnel and locations in enemy states is now an SOP. Geotagged images and posts in or around Russian military bases are a hotbed of information – the same goes for Europe and the US
We are all rightly consumed by the daily reports from Ukraine as the horrors unfold on our phone and TV screens. But behind the scenes, the future of modern warfare is being rewritten in real-time as mainstream social media’s first war unfolds. As I have already reported, we have been preparing for this for years. But what we’re seeing in Ukraine now goes far beyond anything seen before or expected so soon.