Information warfare (IW) is a concept involving the use and management of information and communication technology in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent. Information warfare may involve collection of tactical information, assurance(s) that one’s own information is valid, spreading of propaganda or disinformationto demoralize or manipulate the enemy and the public, undermining the quality of opposing force 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 andcomputer 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:
Television and radio transmission(s) can be jammed.
Television and radio transmission(s) can be hijacked for a disinformation campaign.
Logistics networks can be disabled.
Enemy communications networks can be disabled or spoofed.
Stock exchange transactions can be sabotaged, either with electronic intervention, by leaking sensitive information or by placing disinformation.
The use of drones and other surveillance robots
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 co-ordinated 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.
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 brand 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:
1) The risk for the party or nation initiating the cyber attack is substantially lower than the risk for a party or nation initiating a traditional attack. This makes it easier for governments, as well as potentially terrorist or criminal organizations, to make these attacks more frequently than they could with traditional war.
2) Information communication technologies are so immersed in the modern world that a very wide range of technologies are at risk of a cyber attack. Specifically, civilian technologies can be targeted for cyber attacks 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.
3) The mass-integration of information communication technologies 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 increasing hard to determine who is responsible for any particular event that happens. This issue is exacerbated in the case of cyber attacks, 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, the general who is the head of Cyber Command, 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 cyber attacks, 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