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Information warfare: The war of the future

With the heavy penetration of the internet and digital devices, information warfare has become a vital part of the war games. Here is how it works:

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Over the past few decades, we have experienced a rapid rise in communication networks and the information revolution. This technology is a boon for humankind but its implications are far bane as well. The rapid flow of information has made our lives easier and comfortable but it also led state and non-state actors to the realm of information warfare.

The U.S. Department of Defence defines information warfare as “Actions taken to achieve information superiority by affecting adversary information, information-based processes, information systems, and computer-based networks while defending one’s own information, information-based processed information systems, and computer-based networks”.

This definition seems to be linear but it encompasses all actions taken to damage, annihilate and defeat the enemy on the battlefield of information war.

Information warfare is waged into the information infrastructure (infosphere). The science of warfare has evolved so much that even attacks on the enemy’s infosphere may contribute to the former’s victory. A military officer must be acquainted with the concept, drivers and dynamics of information warfare as the revolution in computer technology have drastically changed the face of military command and control.

Read more: Survival in the age of information warfare

As information has become a strategic asset, therefore information warfare theory has tremendous political, strategic, operational, tactical and legal implications for militaries around the world.

Information warfare is a distinct form of conflict. Some of the developing nations are not even considering this character of war as potentially effective. But developed countries like U.S. Russia, China, etc have declared this domain as future warfare. This was given as a formal status by Pentagon in 1992 and there is a U.S. Army field manual (FM 100-6) devoted to information operations. “Information Operation include interacting with the global information environment and exploiting or denying an adversary’s information and decision capabilities.”

Information warfare is about employing a destructive force against information assets, computers and their networks. Such computer networks provide support to critical infrastructure including communications, financial services, power grids and transportation. An attack against critical infrastructure may leave a country in a state of complete chaos.

Imagine such an attack on a developed country like the U.S. will even wreak social havoc. People without electricity for days or weeks, without water and cash, as no ATMs will be working and without internet and mobile phone services will cause unimaginable violence demanding government for an immediate restoration of information infrastructure and related domains. The government will be unable to control such massive turbulence. 

Basically, protecting against computer network attacks is in the national interest of the country. It is therefore attempted by nations that their adversaries don’t get access to credible information. If their adversary does not get credible information, whatever policy he formulates is or makes a strategic decision, will be flawed. In the military domain, information warfare is considered multipronged.

Martin Libicki identifies seven forms of Information Warfare as follow:

  • Command and Control Warfare (C2W ), 
  • Intelligent-Based Warfare (IBW ), 
  • Electronic Warfare (EW ), 
  • Psychological Warfare (PW ), 
  • Economic Information Warfare (EIW ), 
  • Hackers Warfare (HW ) and 
  • Cyber Warfare (CW) 

If a country ‘A’ becomes successful in limiting the information capability of its adversary ‘B’, then ‘B’ may be misdirected on various fronts particularly information warfare. Spy games between dyads are old but sending physical spies to an enemy state has become less desirable. Because if he/she is caught, the other country will face humiliation and will be held responsible for sponsoring terrorism. Indian spy Kubhushan Jadav was caught in Pakistan and he confessed to sponsoring terrorist activities in Pakistan.

Spies were used extensively during cold war times but with the advent of information warfare, the same purpose is met through internet-based espionage operations. Internet-based attacks on rival country’s infrastructure are mainly sponsored by states but sometimes non-state actors also jump into this battle to leverage over state actors.

Read more: Worldwide implications of Cyber-warfare?

Recent examples include the interception of drone videos and the compromise of defense plans through network hacking. The IW is also even touted as the cornerstone of future US military doctrine. The reason for the U.S. is to maintain military prowess among competitors that no country should be in a position to challenge U.S. supremacy.

The U.S. and its allies have a dependence on an information infrastructure that controls electric power, digitally done transactions, air traffic control, other sectors including oil and gas are the one that can be undermined in information warfare. Potential adversaries may attempt to damage this information infrastructure but such an attack invariably has a strategic aspect.

The vulnerability of the information infrastructure can be analyzed from the number of cyber-attacks on the department of defense computers. The Department of Defence computers in the U.S. were victims of 250,000 cyberattacks in 1995 and it also claimed that 65% of the attacks were successful. Those attacks have increased with the more connectivity of global citizens through electronic devices.

Robert Ayers has been the director of the U.S. Department of Defence Information System Security Program. He claimed to introduce the concept of protection, detection, and reaction. Such an approach has been useful in averting future attacks and also beefed up system security.

Robert Ayers says that “in conventional warfare, we fight on land, sea and air space and organize our military in that geography. In information warfare we do not occupy any physical battlespace; it’s a logical battlespace. In conventional battle your adversary is identifiable and they wear the uniform, in information warfare your adversary is not easily identifiable and they did not wear any uniform.”

Read more: India’s Hybrid Warfare Against Pakistan: Challenges and Response

It is therefore established that the character of war has evolved from battlefield to cyberspace and you have challenges of tracing down your enemies who might be state or non-state actors. But to stay in the international arena of power, states must remain prepared for any kind of challenges but information warfare is a more serious challenge than is expected, It seems to be small in scale but it ravages more damage to victims. “Information is no longer just a means to boost the effectiveness of lethal technologies, but opens up the possibility of non-lethal attacks that can incapacitate, defeat, deter or coerce an adversary.”

Dr. Rizwan Naseer is a strategic security analyst. He can be reached at multirizzz@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Global Village Space and the organization he works for.

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