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Information warfare

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Information warfare (IW) is the battlespace use and management of information and communication technology (ICT) in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent. It is different from cyberwarfare that attacks computers, software, and command control systems. 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.[1][2] As a result, it is not clear when information warfare begins, ends, and how strong or destructive it is.[3]

Information warfare may involve the collection of tactical information, assurance(s) that one's information is valid, spreading of propaganda or disinformation to demoralize or manipulate[4] 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.[5]

The United States Armed Forces' use of the term favors technology and hence tends to extend into the realms of electronic warfare, cyberwarfare, information assurance and computer network operations, attack, and defense. Other militaries use the much broader term 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 has been described as "the use of information to achieve our national objectives."[6] According to NATO, "Information war is an operation conducted in order to gain an information advantage over the opponent."[7]

Information warfare can take many forms:

The United States 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",[9] 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.[10] 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.[11][12][13]

New battlefield[edit]

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 by 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 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.[14]

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.[15][16]

Notable examples[edit]

An office used by Russian web brigades captured by the Armed Forces of Ukraine during the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Russo-Ukrainian War[edit]

In 2022, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have taken advantage of deficiencies in Russian communications by allowing them to piggyback on Ukrainian networks, connect, and communicate. Ukrainian forces then eavesdrop, and cut off Russian communications at a crucial part of the conversation.[a]

To build support before it invaded Ukraine, Russia perpetuated a narrative that claimed the Ukrainian government was committing violence against its own Russian speaking population. By publishing large amounts of disinformation on the internet, the alternate narrative was picked up in search results, such as Google News.[22]

Russian interference in foreign elections[edit]

Russian interference in foreign elections, most notably the Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, has been described as information warfare.[23][24] Russia has also begun to intefere in the 2024 US presidential elections according to Microsoft.[25] According to NBC, Russia is conducting disinformation campaigns in the 2024 US elections against US President, Joe Biden. [26]

Russia vs West[edit]

Research suggests that Russia and the West are also engaged in an information war. For instance, Russia believes that the West is undermining its leader through the encouragement of overthrowing authoritarian regimes and liberal values. In response, Russia promotes the anti-liberal sentiments, including racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and misogyny.[27][26] Russia has saught to promote the idea that the American democratic state is failing.[26]

Russia, China and Pro Palestinian protests[edit]

The Telegraph reported in 2024 that China and Russia were promoting Pro Palestinian influencers in order to manipulate British public opinion in favour of Russian and Chinese interests.[28] NBC reported that Russia was using different tools to cause division within the US, by delegitimizing US police operations against Pro Palestinian protests and by pivoting public conversation from the Russian invasion in Ukraine to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[26] Russian media acitivity increased by 400% in the weeks after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.[26]

Legal and ethical concerns[edit]

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:

  1. 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.[29]
  2. 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.
  3. 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.[13]

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.[30]

See also[edit]

Group specific:

US specific:


  1. ^ Connectivity to GLONASS may be a factor in the lack of Russian PGM availability,[17] and the use of 3G/4G cell towers for Russian encrypted communications (Era) [18] during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. This weakness was unearthed during the use of open communication ("Russian commanders are sometimes piggybacking on Ukrainian cell phone networks to communicate")[19] when FSB was discussing the deaths of their generals: Vitaly Gerasimov, killed 7 Mar 2022;[20] Andrei Sukhovetsky, killed 28 Feb 2022.[21][17]


  1. ^ Glenn. Jerome C. Global Challenge 10, State of the Future 19.1, The Millennium Project, Washington, DC 2018
  2. ^ Brian C, Lewis. "Information Warfare". irp.fas.org. Retrieved 2022-10-24.
  3. ^ Glenn. Jerome. Chapter 9 Defense, Future Mind, Acropolis Books, Washington, DC 1989
  4. ^ "Information Warfare: What and How?". www.cs.cmu.edu. Retrieved 2019-10-20.
  5. ^ Hung, Tzu-Chieh; Hung, Tzu-Wei (2022-07-19). "How China's Cognitive Warfare Works: A Frontline Perspective of Taiwan's Anti-Disinformation Wars". Journal of Global Security Studies. 7 (4): ogac016. doi:10.1093/jogss/ogac016. ISSN 2057-3170. (DOI Free Access added 31 May 2024)
  6. ^ Stein, George J. "Information warfare". Air University (U.S.). Press. Retrieved March 26, 2022.
  7. ^ "Information warfare" (PDF). NATO. Retrieved March 26, 2022.
  8. ^ Haq, Ehsan-Ul; Tyson, Gareth; Braud, Tristan; Hui, Pan (2022-06-28). "Weaponising Social Media for Information Divide and Warfare". Proceedings of the 33rd ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media. HT '22. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 259–262. doi:10.1145/3511095.3536372. ISBN 978-1-4503-9233-4. S2CID 249872702. (PDF format)
  9. ^ "About the Air Force: Our Mission - airforce.com". Archived from the original on 21 November 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  10. ^ "Computer security experts: Dutch hackers stole Gulf War secrets". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2019-10-20.
  11. ^ "Technology News, Analysis, Comments and Product Reviews for IT Professionals". Archived from the original on 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
  12. ^ "The Warnings? - Cyber War! - FRONTLINE - PBS". PBS. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  13. ^ a b Mariarosaria Taddeo (2012). "Mariarosaria Taddeo, Information Warfare: A Philosophical Perspective - PhilPapers". Philosophy & Technology. doi:10.1007/s13347-011-0040-9. hdl:2299/8987. S2CID 17684656. Retrieved 18 February 2015. (journal name added 31 May 2024)
  14. ^ "Report: High Levels Of 'Burnout' In U.S. Drone Pilots". NPR.org. 18 December 2011. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  15. ^ Taddeo Mariarosaria (2012). "Information Warfare: A Philosophical Perspective" (PDF). Philosophy & Technology. 25: 105–120. doi:10.1007/s13347-011-0040-9. hdl:2299/8987. S2CID 17684656.
  16. ^ DAVID E. SANGER (2014-02-24). "Syria War Stirs New U.S. Debate on Cyberattacks". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  17. ^ a b Jamie Ross, who cites Christo Grozev of Bellingcat: (Tue, March 8, 2022, 5:32 AM) (7 March 2022) Russian Officer Complains About Dead General and Comms Meltdown in Intercepted Call FSB (Federal Security Service, successor agency to the KGB) officers discuss Gerasimov's death amid the destruction of 3G/4G cell towers in Ukraine, and the loss of Russian encrypted communications (Era), which compromised the FSB officer's sim-card-enabled phone call.
  18. ^ Rob Waugh (8 Mar 2022) 'Idiots': Russian military phone calls hacked after own soldiers destroy 3G towers 3G/4G Towers Needed For Russian encrypted communications (Era)
  19. ^ MEHUL SRIVASTAVA, MADHUMITA MURGIA, AND HANNAH MURPHY, FT (3/9/2022, 8:33 AM) The secret US mission to bolster Ukraine’s cyber defences ahead of Russia’s invasion European official: "instead of communicating solely through encrypted military-grade phones, Russian commanders are sometimes piggybacking on Ukrainian cell phone networks to communicate, at times simply by using their Russian cell phones. 'The Ukrainians love it—there is so much data in simply watching these phones, whether or not they are using encrypted apps,' he said. The Ukrainians then block Russian phones from their local networks at key moments, further jamming their communications. 'Then you suddenly see Russian soldiers grabbing cell phones off Ukrainians on the street, raiding repair shops for sims,' he said. 'This is not sophisticated stuff. It’s quite puzzling."
  20. ^ Rob Picheta and Jack Guy, CNN (8 Mar 2022) Ukraine claims Russian general has been killed in Kharkiv
  21. ^ Doug Cunningham (3 Mar 2022) Ukraine forces say Chechen commander Magomed Tushayev killed near Kyiv
  22. ^ Wirtschafter, Jessica Brandt and Valerie (2022-03-01). "The surprising performance of Kremlin propaganda on Google News". Brookings. Retrieved 2022-05-24.
  23. ^ "Rosyjska ingerencja w amerykańskie wybory prezydenckie w latach 2016 i 2020 jako próba realizacji rewolucyjnego scenariusza walki informacyjnej". Warsaw Institute (in Polish). 2021-07-03. Retrieved 2022-04-28.
  24. ^ Wojnowski, Michał (2019). "Wybory prezydenckie jako narzędzie destabilizacji państw w teorii i praktyce rosyjskich operacji informacyjno-psychologicznych w XX i XXI w." Przegląd Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego (in Polish). 11 (21): 13–43. ISSN 2080-1335.
  25. ^ Farrell, James. "Russia's 2024 Election Influence Campaign Has Started, Microsoft Analysis Finds". Forbes. Retrieved 2024-06-13.
  26. ^ a b c d e "Russia is trying to exploit America's divisions over the war in Gaza". NBC News. 2024-04-30. Retrieved 2024-06-13.
  27. ^ Sohl, Ben (2022). "Discolored Revolutions: Information Warfare ins Russia's Grand Strategy" (PDF). The Washington Quarterly. 45 (1): 97–111. doi:10.1080/0163660X.2022.2057113. S2CID 248393195. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 April 2022.
  28. ^ Turner, Camilla; Lisbona, Natalie (2024-05-18). "Russia and China 'manipulating UK public opinion by promoting pro-Palestinian influencers'". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2024-06-04.
  29. ^ Ajir, Media; Vailliant, Bethany (2018). "Russian Information Warfare: Implications for Deterrence Theory". Strategic Studies Quarterly. 12 (3): 70–89. ISSN 1936-1815. JSTOR 26481910. Open access icon
  30. ^ "Cyberwar Nominee Sees Gaps in Law". The New York Times. 15 April 2010. Archived from the original on 19 April 2010.



  • Jerome Clayton Glenn, "Future Mind" Chapter 9. Defense p. 195-201. Acropolis Books LTD, Washington, DC (1989)
  • 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).


External links[edit]


Course syllabi[edit]

  • 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[edit]

Papers: Other[edit]

News articles[edit]

United States Department of Defense IO Doctrine[edit]