James Hann, head of our Government Practice and Digital Risk team, takes time out to talk about how he works across a broad spectrum of clients, advising on situations ranging from contentious legal disputes to global disinformation campaigns.
I joined Digitalis in 2018, having spent eight years in the military. During my time in the army I worked in many different roles and I was deployed overseas on multiple operations. Often my job was to help build our wider understanding of the situation around us, bringing together lots of disparate pieces of information and processing them into a clear picture so that others could take action. Obvious similarities exist within the open source world of contemporary intelligence-led and data-driven corporate investigations.
Digitalis had been working increasingly on the intersection between online reputation management and open source investigations, and I joined to help establish and develop our team and offering in this space. We began building the Digital Risk team in early 2019 and have moved from strength to strength. We have built advanced and automated analytical tools and processes into our daily work as part of litigation support, reputation auditing, and combatting influence operations.
2. How did you go about building the Digitalis Risk team?
We service a large number of requirements at Digitalis, covering reputation audits, investigation reports, multi-jurisdiction litigation support projects, and disinformation and hostile campaign analysis – to name a few. As such, we needed to build a broad base of experience and talent in our department. We now have team members with experience covering multiple sectors and skills, including geopolitical risk, journalism and communications, legal, and political campaigns. We hired strategically, to ensure we have an extremely wide range of languages spoken and written in-house. Combined with our proprietary technology, this gives us a formidable team to bring to bear in our work.
3. You lead the Government Practice at Digitalis. Can you tell us a little more about the types of projects you are engaged in, and what you enjoy about working with government clients in particular?
Having worked within the public sector for over eight years, I find it satisfying to identify solutions to challenges facing governments who often lack the resources to tackle issues in the online landscape. Our efforts over the past 18 months in analysing and combatting disinformation challenges is a fascinating branch of our work. We are engaged in the entire process, from the initial collection and analysis right through to the takedown of troll accounts and bot networks. We have a high success rate when it comes to challenging influence operations, which makes this a particularly enjoyable area of our work.
4. Finally, what are your predictions for how online threats will evolve in the coming months and years, and what might this mean for Digitalis’s clients?
There are two key areas where I think we will see increased risk in the coming months and years: syndicated media (also known as deepfakes), and the continued trend of non-state entities mounting sophisticated influence operations.
Firstly, deepfakes powered by AI are increasingly fooling human audiences across social media, and as the technology behind them becomes cheaper and more accessible, the threat they pose will continue to rise. The spread of deepfakes carries the risk of harmful disinformation being propagated around politics and electoral campaigns, as well as associated reputational threats to those portrayed in the videos.
Secondly, we are seeing an increase in influence operations using disinformation campaign tactics in the corporate world. This activity will undoubtedly shift the way corporates and large organisations are viewed, reported on, and trusted online. Digitalis anticipates that this will be a significant threat in the coming months, and we have launched our own Disinformation Investigations Unit (DIU) to tackle the problem and support companies facing such threats. The DIU was created on the technologies we built to track state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, and tailored to provide corporates with the means to address them. We anticipate that there will be ever-more demand for this service as we continue to see a rise in the prevalence of sophisticated disinformation and influence operations in the future.