The Colombian Military Forces fight around the clock against cyberattacks and radicalization and misinformation campaigns, which seek to discredit the work of institutions and polarize society. Their main support is the Joint Cyber Command (CCOC, in Spanish).
“The CCOC has data processing capabilities and direct interconnection to communications and software with virtual research, containment, and defense capabilities,” Juan P. Salazar, director of the Colombian firm CyberLawyer & Public Affairs, told Diálogo. “It also monitors information published, verifies data and facts, and detects behavioral patterns in social media to counter misinformation.”
Since December 2017, Colombia has recorded more than 53,000 virtual security incidents caused by transnational organized crime, most of which were bank account thefts against companies and individuals, followed by identity theft and libel, said the Colombian Chamber of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
Attacks against information systems don’t respect virtual or physical borders; their cost is minimal, and they are difficult to trace. “This is why we need to be proactive when creating mechanisms that set up solid security strategies, so we can always be on guard,” Army Major Edson Mahecha, chief of Strategy, Plans, and Projects at the Colombian Military Forces General Command’s CCOC, told Diálogo.
“We train our senses to detect these practices, considered to be the main weapons in the fifth domain [of war],” said Maj. Mahecha. “Cyberattacks intend to discredit institutions, people, facts, and to gain followers, impose trends, twist information, steal personal information, forge identities, and influence political strategies, decision making, and the perception of public opinion.”
For example, on August 31, 2019, social media showed images of four women who had allegedly been killed in a bombing Colombian service members had carried out against dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish) in Caquetá department. The Colombian Ministry of Defense rejected the accusations, as the images, shared by former presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, were actually from an August 22 shooting in Touros, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, where several members of a single family were killed.
In another case, on September 1, the Colombian Army denied that one of its helicopters had been shot down near the Venezuelan border, as several anonymous sources claimed through a video posted on social media. The video actually corresponds to an Army aircraft that had an accident because of mechanical failure on October 18, 2017 in Medellín, where 10 service members were injured.
“This hybrid [political, conventional, irregular, and cyber] war weapon can destabilize a functioning state, creating a polarized society,” said Salazar. “The best weapon is information transparency, based on freedom of the press, respect for human rights, democracies, and open societies.”
To stay ahead and increase cybersecurity capabilities, cyberdefense, and the virtual war against misinformation, strengthening international cooperation is necessary. “Fortunately, Colombia, just like other Latin American countries, has U.S. support through the Cybersecurity Program of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism,” Maj. Mahecha concluded.