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Information warfare

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Information warfare

The term Information Warfare (IW) is primarily a United States Military 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 disinformation to demoralize or manipulate[1] 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, Cyber Warfare, Information Assurance and Computer Network Operations / Attack / 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.
  • Drones and other surveillance robots
  • Communication Management

The US Air Force has had Information Warfare Squadrons since the 1980s. In fact, the official mission of the US Air Force is now "To fly, fight and air, space and cyberspace,"[2] with the latter referring to its Information Warfare role.

As the US 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 first Gulf War.

Also during the 1991 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 can 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.[3][4] [5]

New battlefield

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 cyber attacks, 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 cyber attacks transpired in 2007 when a strike from Israeli forces demolished a nuclear reactor in Syria that was being constructed via a collaborative effort between Syria and North Korea. Accompanied with the strike was a cyber attack 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, cyber attacks 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 in the study were labeled “clinically distressed” with some of those pilots also showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (National Public Radio 2011).

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.[6][7][8]

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.[5]

Recently, legal concerns have arisen centered around 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 and maintain a mindset similar to that of traditional war, in which they will seek to limit the impact on civilians.[9]

See also


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  • Winn Schwartau, "Information Warfare: Chaos on the Electronic Superhighway" Thunder's Mouth Press (1993)
  • Winn Schwartau, ed, Information Warfare: Cyberterrorism: Protecting your personal security in the electronic age, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2nd ed, (1996) (ISBN 1560251328).
  • John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, In Athena's Camp, RAND (1997).
  • Dorothy Denning, Information Warfare and Security, Addison-Wesley (1998) (ISBN 0201433036).
  • James Adams, The Next World War: Computers are the Weapons and the Front line is Everywhere, Simon and Schuster (1998) (ISBN 0684834529).
  • Edward Waltz, Information Warfare Principles and Operations, Artech House, 1998, ISBN 0-89006-511-X
  • John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy, RAND (2001) (ISBN 0833030302).
  • Ishmael Jones, The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, Encounter Books, New York (2010) (ISBN 978-1594032233). Information/intelligence warfare.
  • Gregory J. Rattray, Strategic Warfare in Cyberspace, MIT Press (2001) (ISBN 0262182092).
  • Anthony H. Cordesman, Cyber-threats, Information Warfare, and Critical Infrastructure Protection: DEFENDING THE US HOMELAND (2002) (ISBN 0275974235).
  • Leigh Armistead, Information Operations: The Hard Reality of Soft Power, Joint Forces Staff College and the National Security Agency (2004) (ISBN 1574886991).
  • Thomas Rid, War and Media Operations: The US Military and the Press from Vietnam to Iraq, Routledge (2007) (ISBN 0415416590).
  • Daniel Ventre, Information Warfare, Wiley - ISTE (2009) (ISBN 9781848210943).
  • Daniel Ventre, Cyberwar and Information Warfare, Wiley - ISTE (2011).


  • Science at War: Information Warfare, The History Channel (1998).

External links


  • Politically Motivated Computer Crime
  • Cyberspace and Information Operations Study Center, Air University, U.S. Air Force.
  • IWS - The Information Warfare Site
  • Information Warfare Monitor - Tracking Cyberpower (University of Toronto, Canada/Munk Centre)
  • Twitter: InfowarMonitor
  • Information Warfare, I-War, IW, C4I, Cyberwar
  • Federation of American Scientists - IW Resources
  • Association of Old Crows The Electronic Warfare and Information Operations Association.
  • - Computer Security & Intelligence
  • Information Warfare, Information Operations and Electronic Attack Capabilities Air Power Australia.
  • Committee on Policy Consequences and Legal/Ethical Implications of Offensive Information Warfare, The National Academies.
  • Program on Information and Warfare, Global Information Society Project, World Policy Institute.
  • Information Warriors Information Warriors is web forum dedicated to the discussion of Navy Information Warfare.
  • Mastermind Corporation Information Warfare Tactics Analysis
  • Information Warfare in Biology Nature's Exploitation of Information to Win Survival Contests, Monash University, Computer Science.

Course Syllabi

  • COSC 511 Information Warfare: Terrorism, Crime, and National Security @ Department of Computer Science, Georgetown University (1997–2002) (Dorothy Denning).
  • CSE468 Information Conflict (Honours) @ School of Computer Science and Software Engineering, Monash University (2006) (Carlo Kopp).
  • Information Warfare, Cyberterrorism, and Hacktivism from Cybercrime, Cyberterrorism and Digital Law Enforcement, New York Law School.

Papers: Research and Theory

  • Col Andrew Borden, USAF (Ret.), What is Information Warfare? Aerospace Power Chronicles (1999).
  • Dr Carlo Kopp, A Fundamental Paradigm of Infowar (February 2000).
  • Research & Theory Links, Cyberspace and Information Operations Study Center, Air War College, Air University, U.S. Air Force.
  • Lachlan Brumley et al., Cutting Through the Tangled Web: An Information-Theoretic Perspective on Information Warfare (October 2012).
  • Taddeo, Mariarosaria (2012). Information Warfare: A Philosophical Perspective. Philosophy and Technology 25 (1):105-120.

Papers: Other

  • An essay on Information Operations by Zachary P. Hubbard

News articles

  • Army, Air Force seek to go on offensive in cyber war, (June 13, 2007).
  • NATO says urgent need to tackle cyber attack, Reuters (June 14, 2007).
  • America prepares for 'cyber war' with China, (June 15, 2007).
  • NATO, US gear up for cyberpunk warfare, The Register (June 15, 2007).

United States Department of Defense IO Doctrine

  • Information Operations Roadmap (DOD 2003)
  • Information Operations (JP 3-13 2006)
  • Operations Security (JP 3-13.3)
  • Military Deception (JP 3-13.4)
  • Joint Doctrine for PSYOPS (JP 3-53 2003)
  • Joint Doctrine for Public Affairs (JP 3-61 2005)
  • Destabilizing Terrorist Networks: Disrupting and Manipulating Information Flows in the Global War on Terrorism, Yale Information Society Project Conference Paper (2005).
  • Seeking Symmetry in Fourth Generation Warfare: Information Operations in the War of Ideas, Presentation (PDF slides) to the Bantle - Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) Symposium, Syracuse University (2006).
  • K. A. Taipale, Seeking Symmetry on the Information Front: Confronting Global Jihad on the Internet, 16 National Strategy F. Rev. 14 (Summer 2007).
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