Could Donald Trump’s Twitter Feed Be Weaponized?

trump-twitterWhen I’m asked about the “artificially generated stampede” or “dominipede” (multiple, simultaneous stampedes likely affecting the NFL 1 o’clock slate), I often get this look of skepticism and consternation.

“Well, assuming it’s a cellular-driven panic in the stadium, how would they get everyone’s cell phone number?”

This particular question is frustrating because it demonstrates the linear approach most people have regarding concepts which require a certain degree of cognitive speculation.  Unfortunately, most people have difficulty comprehending hypothetical scenarios in the realm of cyber-security.

Truth be told, there are all kinds of ways to directly acquire a list of cell numbers.

The concerted hack of a wireless carrier provider, the hijacking of an Amber, NWS (National Weather Service) or Presidential Terror Alert, intentional misuse of a reverse 911 platform or opt-in notification system, acquisition of a season ticket holder list in conjunction with a bulk messaging service, Stingray technology (a small lightweight device that functions as a phony cell tower) in tandem with a real-time mass notification system (texts, robocalls, phishing scams, etc.).  Like I said, these are just some of the more obvious direct pathways.  I usually refer to them as “lights out” scenarios.

But there are far simpler methods.  Many of these would bypass the need for any phone numbers.  Instead, they’d utilize the internet and attempt to virally spread disinformation via social media platforms.  This would require little technical expertise.  And yes, it directly applies to our President Elect’s penchant for disseminating propaganda via twitter.

Since joining in 2009, Donald Trump has tweeted over 34,000 times.  This demonstrates an overwhelming proclivity for social media.  Whether it’s fueled by ego or narcissism is wholly irrelevant.  It appears that Trump’s notorious twitter rants are here to stay.

And with 17+ million followers and growing, that’s a pretty big audience.  The majority of his fan base has pledged blind allegiance and seem willing to obediently comply with his rhetoric, without much effort to engage in critical thinking.  Now could this be a recipe for disaster?

What might happen if… during the NFL season on any given Sunday afternoon, Trump’s twitter feed was “hacked?”  What if it relayed the following tweet?

Terrorism Alert!  This is NOT a test.
Emergency evacuations underway at all NFL stadiums.

How might the general public react when faced with this unique tidbit of information?  Would anyone be inclined to share or hit a retweet button (as most people generally know someone who regularly attends NFL games).

Not convinced?  How about one of Trump’s patented tirades… or tweetstorms?

For the sake of authenticity, I’ll try to recreate his stylistically fragmented script, often noted for incorrect punctuation and capitalization, poor grammar, occasional misspellings and alarmist rhetoric.  140 characters might not seem like a lot to work with, but the condensed phrasing could have “unpresidented” implications.  For example…

Emergency FAA report: 5-10 planes hijacked.
NFL stadiums could be targeted.
Get those fans outta there!  NOW!!!

Just briefed. This is real-world.  Not a drill.
All NFL stadiums have been ordered to evacuate.
Exit immediately!  DO NOT PANIC!

FBI/DHS ALERT:  Imminent terrorist threat.
Eastcoast & Midwest football stadiums.
Remain calm.  Exit all venues completely.

Roughly 60 seconds pass.

Presidential Terror Alert:
The United States is officially at DEFCON 1.

Maximum level of readiness.
Stand by for further information and take shelter instructions.

Now let me ask a rhetorical question.  In this day and age, how long do you think it would take for the major cable news outlets (CNN, MSNBC, FOX) to pick up a story like this?  How long until they engage their BREAKING NEWS alerts on live television?  What about the hundreds of local news channels and thousands of reporters?  Their social media platforms?  Print media and radio?  What about… uh, everyone?  It’s called an “info-bomb” but I prefer the term “viral blitzkrieg” as the information would be designed to grow in an exponentially, decentralized fashion.

All you’d really need are a few key buzzwords that evoke fear and a sense of urgency (bomb, active shooter, IED, drone, etc.).  Please note how this specific terminology wasn’t even necessary.  I won’t even bother touching on the prospect of photos, GIFs, videos, links, etc.

I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.  There is no realistic, viable contingency plan for something of this nature.  You cannot mitigate a real-world panic and an ensuing stampede.  The only solution lies with enhancing situational awareness and explicitly informing people that official stadium evacuation orders would NEVER be delivered via their cell phones.  Because the correct protocol dictates using the public address system and the video monitors.  NOT CELL PHONES.  Trust me, if it’s coming from your phone, it’s almost certainly a malicious hoax.  The only other possible explanation would be that someone is trying to evacuate a stadium(s) solely for their own personal amusement.  And that wouldn’t be good either.

Time to interject a little techno-sarcasm.  Did you know there has NEVER been a high profile social media hack?

No celebrities, no politicians, no universities, no retail outlets, no hospitals or pharmaceutical companies, no airlines, no banks, no government agencies or departments.  Everyone and everything is now invincible.  In particular, the NFL is unexploitable and untouchable.  In case you didn’t notice, the sarcasm has continued unabated.

Well, at least the tech industry is safe.  Except for a few insignificant nobodies like Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google) and Mark Zuckerburg (CEO of Facebook).  And oh yeah, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently had his account compromised and suspended due to an “internal mistake.”  Like I was saying, just an assortment of irrelevant nobodies.

Now let me pose a question.  From a hacker’s perspective, who and what would be the most prized target worldwide?  If your answer is Donald Trump and his twitter account… well, I think you just hit the nail on the head.

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Don’t worry so much.  That seriously happened back in 2013.

But just for the sake of devil’s advocate, let’s assume the aforementioned Trump twitter hack actually played itself out.  And everyone accurately deciphered it was a hoax and nobody panicked.  Okay, well I guess congratulations would be in order.  Kudos to the collective American consumer and their sharp instincts.

Personally speaking, I think that’s asking a bit much.

The better question is this: Wouldn’t people demand something be done in its aftermath?  You know… since someone was trying to indiscriminately kill about one thousand innocent civilians by weaponizing a series of human stampedes?  Based on prior stadium stampede models abroad, that’s roughly 100 fatalities per stadium.  Oh yeah, and injuries somewhere in the realm of 5,000 – 10,000.  After all, we’re talking about 10+ stadium stampedes.

Wouldn’t the next logical step involve telling people the TRUTH about outdated emergency venue evac protocol?  At the very least, that cell phones are NOT part of the initial equation.  Is that really asking too much?  You’d think there would be a moral and legal obligation to divulge generic public safety info such as this.  But you would be incorrect.  It’s all about plausible deniability, hypothetical litigation and the lose-lose proposition.  Nothing but downside.

So let’s take a gander at the upcoming NFL early game schedule.  If someone truly wished to irreparably pulverize the National Football League and synthesize the next 9/11, two particular days would tend to stand out.

Eight simultaneous games on Saturday, December 24, 2016… the day before Christmas.
Buffalo, New Orleans, Foxborough, Jacksonville, Green Bay, Cleveland, Chicago and Charlotte.

Everyone’s home for the holidays, gathered around the widescreen in the living room.  This would not make for an especially merry Christmas.

But far worse would be New Years Day… January 1, 2017

A season high 12, mostly meaningless games set to occupy the 1 o’clock slate.
Atlanta, Cincinnati, Landover, Nashville, Tampa, Detroit, Indianapolis, Miami, Minneapolis, East Rutherford, Philadelphia and my hometown of Pittsburgh.

Obviously, this would not be a celebratory way to “kickoff” the new year.

What about this year’s Super Bowl in Houston, Texas?

Just briefed by Homeland Security.  Possible hijacking out of ELP (El Paso International Airport).  Super Bowl at NRG Stadium could be targeted!  Get those fans outta there NOW!!!

Plane is a 747 heading from El Paso to New Orleans.  FAA has lost all contact.  Their transponder has been turned off.  Not good.  

Of course the NFL and its security apparatus have it all figured out.  After all, they’re impervious to controversies and scandals.  Because when you think of Roger Goodell and the cadre of multi-billionaire owners, there’s one word that never comes to mind — hubris.

Do you recall the aforementioned sarcasm?  Well, I just took it one step further with a dash of derision, a round of ridicule and a mountain of mockery.

Wouldn’t it be ironic, if following a year of divisive rhetoric about Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails, Donald Trump found himself victimized by a similar fate?  Except vastly worse.  What if pre-teen son Barron grabbed his father’s cell phone off the table and decided to play a silly prank?  Makes you wonder who has a better grasp of wireless technology… the 10 year old or the 70 year old.  Of course, a mischievous billionaire kid would never seek to emulate dear old dad’s impetuous behavior.

Before you dismiss these concerns, it might be a good idea to think about the proliferation and ramifications of “fake news” as well.  Is this particular social media phenomenon escalating or subsiding?   Will there ever be any discernible real-time consequences?

“It’s now clear that so-called ‘fake news’ can have real-world consequences.  This isn’t about politics or partisanship.  Lives are at risk.  Lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days to do their jobs, contribute to their communities.  It’s a danger that must be addressed, and addressed quickly.” — Hillary Clinton (in a December 8, 2016 speech honoring the retirement of Senator Harry Reid)

Ya wanna know something?  Upon reflection, I wouldn’t worry too much.  I’m sure the FCC, DHS, and the FBI have it all covered.  Just like the NFL, NCAA, MLB, NBA and the NHL.  Ya wanna know something else?  On the night of the 2016 presidential election, pretty much everyone got it wrong.  The media, the political pundits and the polls. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Hmmm, I wonder if something like that could ever happen again.  I wonder if an isolated single act of cyber-terrorism will manifest itself as an epic, “black swan” event.

Could a “dominipede” be the next 9/11?

Facebook permanently blocked my “sharing” privileges long ago.  But feel free to share the link to this article on any social media platform regarding Donald Trump or the NFL.

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