Information warfare (IW) is a concept involving the battlespace use and management of information and communication technology (ICT) in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent. Information warfare is the manipulation of information trusted by a target without the target's awareness so that the target will make decisions against their interest but in the interest of the one conducting information warfare. As a result, it is not clear when information warfare begins, ends, and how strong or destructive it is. Information warfare may involve the collection of tactical information, assurance(s) that one's own information is valid, spreading of propaganda or disinformation to demoralize or manipulate the enemy and the public, undermining the quality of the opposing force's information and denial of information-collection opportunities to opposing forces. Information warfare is closely linked to psychological warfare.
The United States military focus tends to favor technology, and hence tends to extend into the realms of electronic warfare, cyberwarfare, information assurance and computer network operations, attack and defense.
Most of the rest of the world use the much broader term of "Information Operations" which, although making use of technology, focuses on the more human-related aspects of information use, including (amongst many others) social network analysis, decision analysis and the human aspects of command and control.
Information warfare can take many forms:
The U.S. Air Force has had Information Warfare Squadrons since the 1980s. In fact, the official mission of the U.S. Air Force is now "To fly, fight and win...in air, space and cyberspace", with the latter referring to its information warfare role.
As the U.S. Air Force often risks aircraft and aircrews to attack strategic enemy communications targets, remotely disabling such targets using software and other means can provide a safer alternative. In addition, disabling such networks electronically (instead of explosively) also allows them to be quickly re-enabled after the enemy territory is occupied. Similarly, counter-information warfare units are employed to deny such capability to the enemy. The first application of these techniques was used against Iraqi communications networks in the Gulf War.
Also during the Gulf War, Dutch hackers allegedly stole information about U.S. troop movements from U.S. Defense Department computers and tried to sell it to the Iraqis, who thought it was a hoax and turned it down. In January 1999, U.S. Air Intelligence computers were hit by a coordinated attack (Moonlight Maze), part of which came from a Russian mainframe. This could not be confirmed as a Russian cyber attack due to non-attribution – the principle that online identity may not serve as proof of real world identity.
The innovation of more advanced and autonomous ICTs has engendered a new revolution in military affairs, which encompasses nations' use of ICTs in both cyberspace and the physical battlefield to wage war against their adversaries. The three most prevalent revolutions in military affairs come in the form of cyberattacks, autonomous robots and communication management.
Within the realm of cyberspace, there are two primary weapons: network-centric warfare and C4ISR, which denotes integrated Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. Furthermore, cyberspace attacks initiated by one nation against another nation have an underlying goal of gaining information superiority over the attacked party, which includes disrupting or denying the victimized party's ability to gather and distribute information. A real-world occurrence that illustrated the dangerous potential of cyberattacks transpired in 2007, when a strike from Israeli forces demolished an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria that was being constructed via a collaborative effort between Syria and North Korea. Accompanied with the strike was a cyberattack on Syria's air defenses, which left them blind to the attack on the nuclear reactor and, ultimately allowed for the attack to occur (New York Times 2014). An example of a more basic attack on a nation within cyberspace is a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack, which is utilized to hinder networks or websites until they lose their primary functionality. As implied, cyberattacks do not just affect the military party being attacked, but rather the whole population of the victimized nation. Since more aspects of daily life are being integrated into networks in cyberspace, civilian populations can potentially be negatively affected during wartime. For example, if a nation chose to attack another nation's power grid servers in a specific area to disrupt communications, civilians and businesses in that area would also have to deal with power outages, which could potentially lead to economic disruptions as well.
Moreover, physical ICTs have also been implemented into the latest revolution in military affairs by deploying new, more autonomous robots (i.e. – unmanned drones) into the battlefield to carry out duties such as patrolling borders and attacking ground targets. Humans from remote locations pilot many of the unmanned drones, however, some of the more advanced robots, such as the Northrop Grumman X-47B, are capable of autonomous decisions. Despite piloting the drones from remote locations, a proportion of drone pilots still suffer from stress factors of more traditional warfare. According to NPR, a study performed by the Pentagon in 2011 found that 29% of drone pilots are “burned out” and undergo high levels of stress. Furthermore, approximately 17% of the drone pilots surveyed as the study were labeled “clinically distressed” with some of those pilots also showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Modern ICTs have also brought advancements to communications management among military forces. Communication is a vital aspect of war for any involved party and, through the implementation of new ICTs such as data-enabled devices, military forces are now able to disseminate information faster than ever before. For example, some militaries are now employing the use of iPhones to upload data and information gathered by drones in the same area.
Legal and ethical concerns
While information warfare has yielded many advances in the types of attack that a government can make, it has also raised concerns about the moral and legal ambiguities surrounding this particularly new form of war. Traditionally, wars have been analyzed by moral scholars according to just war theory. However, with Information Warfare, Just War Theory fails because the theory is based on the traditional conception of war. Information Warfare has three main issues surrounding it compared to traditional warfare:
- The risk for the party or nation initiating the cyberattack is substantially lower than the risk for a party or nation initiating a traditional attack. This makes it easier for governments, as well as potential terrorist or criminal organizations, to make these attacks more frequently than they could with traditional war.
- Information communication technologies (ICT) are so immersed in the modern world that a very wide range of technologies are at risk of a cyberattack. Specifically, civilian technologies can be targeted for cyberattacks and attacks can even potentially be launched through civilian computers or websites. As such, it is harder to enforce control of civilian infrastructures than a physical space. Attempting to do so would also raise many ethical concerns about the right to privacy, making defending against such attacks even tougher.
- The mass-integration of ICT into our system of war makes it much harder to assess accountability for situations that may arise when using robotic and/or cyber attacks. For robotic weapons and automated systems, it's becoming increasingly hard to determine who is responsible for any particular event that happens. This issue is exacerbated in the case of cyberattacks, as sometimes it is virtually impossible to trace who initiated the attack in the first place.
Recently, legal concerns have arisen centered on these issues, specifically the issue of the right to privacy in the United States of America. Lt. General Keith B. Alexander, who served as the head of Cyber Command under President Barack Obama, noted that there was a "mismatch between our technical capabilities to conduct operations and the governing laws and policies" when writing to the Senate Armed Services Committee. A key point of concern was the targeting of civilian institutions for cyberattacks, to which the general promised to try to maintain a mindset similar to that of traditional war, in which they will seek to limit the impact on civilians.
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