Office of Naval Research awards ASU $1.6 million to study Russian propaganda

July 30, 2018

Arizona State University has been awarded a $1.6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research, a division of the United States Department of the Navy. The project will examine thousands of mass media and social media postings in the Baltic States — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — to help detect if Russia is planning a military invasion there.  

Directing the research for the grant is Professor Steve Corman, director of the Center for Strategic Communication at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. ASU collaborators on the project include the School of Computing, Informatics & Decision Systems Engineering, and the Global Security Initiative. Part of the work will be subcontracted to the aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin. Funding will span a three-year period. steve corman Professor Steve Corman Download Full Image

“Dr. Corman has a long history of funded research dedicated to the application of theories of persuasive communication, to identify the ways in which strategic communication attempts to influence public opinion,” said Linda Lederman, professor and director of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

Corman and his team won the grant in part due to a pilot project funded by Lockheed Martin examining Russian and pro-Russian press reports prior to the takeover of Crimea by pro-Russian separatists and Russian Armed Forces.    

“About four months before the invasion of Ukraine, we saw huge changes in Russian anti-Ukrainian propaganda,” Corman said. “The Russians were clearly trying to rile up the Russian-speaking minorities to sow support for their cause. Obviously, there hasn’t been an invasion in the Baltics yet, but we will be trying to figure out if there are correlations between propaganda framing and conflict events in the Baltics.” 

Russian strategic communication techniques were so successful that in 2014, a referendum, deemed unconstitutional by the Ukrainian Constitutional Court, was held on whether Crimea should leave Ukraine and join Russia. The official result was that a large majority of Crimeans wished to join with Russia. 

“The Russians are known for using skewed facts, half-truths, rumors, and misinformation to work in their favor,” Corman said. “They were able to soften up the Russian-speaking minorities by planting stories and telling them that the Ukrainian government is corrupt, they are violating their human rights, and that the government is backed by Nazis. These narratives and other tactics were obviously quite useful to them.”

Corman added, “The Russians do this in their own backyard, and they’ve done it in Europe. They’re also doing it here in the United States, where they are trying to stir the pot by amplifying both sides of hot-button issues. It’s really important to keep our eye on them.”

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


ASU, Dash publish new research on blockchain scalability

July 30, 2018

The Arizona State University Blockchain Research Lab and Dash, a top digital currency for payments and e-commerce, have released new research that highlights some of the scaling challenges and potential opportunities for the Dash blockchain. The paper, “Block Propagation Applied to Nakamoto Networks,” discusses the results of different scaling solution scenario simulations for the Dash network while also providing potential insights on the scalability challenges facing proof-of-work blockchains.

“The scalability question has been a major limiting factor for most cryptocurrencies, as there has been doubt surrounding whether or not these networks can scale to handle mass adoption," said Dragan Boscovic, director of the ASU Blockchain Research Lab and professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. "Through this research, which was made possible by our partnership with Dash, we were able to investigate the scaling limitations of the Dash network while also exploring various block propagation techniques. We’re excited to broaden our research in the future to potentially explore other pertinent topics including the operation of mining pools, and the role of multi-tier networks.” Dragan Boscovic, ASU Dragan Boscovic, ASU Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering research professor. Download Full Image

The team — led by Boscovic and researchers Nakul Chawla and Darren Tapp — focused on simulating different block size scaling scenarios for the Dash network with three different types of block propagation protocols: traditional full block propagation, compact block propagation and extreme thin (xthin) block propagation. Each simulation was applied to networks with at least 6,000 nodes and, to account for variance, the simulations were run long enough to simulate at least 700 blocks.

Some highlights from the research include:

• Scaling to 10MB block sizes is feasible for the Dash network when utilizing xthin block propagation. Utilizing compact block propagation, the Dash network can reliably scale to between 6-8MB block sizes with a negligible orphan block rate.

 • Based on the simulation data, scaling well beyond 10MB block sizes using compact or xthin block propagation, while maintaining a minimal orphan block rate, is realistic.

 • If miners are acting “rationally” and “in search of a profit,” there is an “economic limit” that disincentivizes mining blocks that eclipse .9MB in transactions using traditional block propagation techniques (unless higher transaction fees are included in the block); however, when using xthin propagation the economic limit disappears in block sizes up to 10MB.

“Scalability has been a key challenge for the blockchain industry, but the lack of academic research into the issue has been notable," said Ryan Taylor, CEO of Dash Core. "The implication of this research is prodigious not only for Dash, but for crypto as a whole. First, it means we can continue increasing block size and network capacity to at least five times our current capacity in the near term. This means we will soon have 40 times the capacity of the Bitcoin network and a credible path to scaling further in the future. This is the type of scalability we need to achieve mass adoption as a daily payments solution.”

The simulations were carried out at ASU’s Center for Assured and Scalable Data Engineering. The research is part of a $350,000 partnership that was announced in January 2018 between Dash and ASU, which was funded by Dash’s unique treasury system and includes funds earmarked for the Blockchain Research Lab as well as a Dash Scholars program.

Read the full paper