Note 2005: This article was one of
the first two papers to relate the four canonical strategies of
information warfare to Shannon's information theory; the other paper
was produced independently at about the same time by Dr
Andrew Borden of the U.S. Air Force. As such the Borden-Kopp model
provides the only theory of Information Warfare which is mathematically
supportable. Further reading in Shannon,
Hypergames And Information Warfare.
The turn of the millennium
is a good time for reflection, and this is very much true for the issue
of Information Warfare. Created as a paradigm during the early
nineties, Infowar is today a fact of life, as much as many may still
scoff at the idea.
Being tasked with producing a two part series on Infowar
presented some interesting questions ? Would another dry technical
analysis of offensive and defensive measures be appropriate ? Upon
reflection I realised that the dry technical issues have mostly remained
unchanged since Systems covered the subject two years ago.
A much bigger issue has arisen in recent years. It is
rejection of the Infowar paradigm itself. Infowar
sceptics/opponents/detractors seem to find endless reasons to deride and
reject this ostensibly nineties phenomenon. I have seen assertions to
the effect that "there is no such thing as Infowar", "Infowar is a
transient fad", "Infowar lacks intellectual rigour", "Infowar is really
Electronic Warfare", indeed this list of nonsensical assertions could be
Since I have little patience with fools, I hereby
present a basic and fundamental paradigm of Information Warfare:
A Fundamental Paradigm
of Information Warfare
To most of the public, Information Warfare (IW), and
broader Information Operations (IO), conjure up the image of Middle
Eastern terrorist types paying vast amounts of cash to unkempt Eastern
European crackers, who dig into the depths of the vast US DoD computer
network, extracting vital secrets and compromising vital operations.
Indeed, this Gibsonian image has captured the imagination of the media
and Hollywood alike, and has become another one of the urban myths which
are blindly accepted as a fundamental truth outside the inner circle of
the professional IW theorists. Alas, Gibsonian cyberwar is but one
facet of a much more complex reality.
In the most general sense, IW/IO are all operations
which are conducted to exploit information to gain an advantage over an
opponent, and to deny the opponent information which could be used to an
advantage. To be pedantic, I would have preferred to see "information"
replaced with "knowledge", insofar as in a more practical context
"information = knowledge + garbage", if we look at much of what passes
as "information" these days. A really vociferous defender of the
established nomenclature can rightfully argue that Shannon's definition
of "information" makes the established IW/IO nomenclature the proper
one. The truth is that few people in my experience understand Shannon's
theorems, let alone could place them into the context of IW/IO ! Muddled
enough with issues of nomenclature ?
I am sure many IW/IO purists will no doubt lambast my
frivolous treatment of nomenclature, however I think some frivolity
doesn't hurt since it underscores the fact that too many formalisms can
frequently obscure the deeper truths !
Exploring the taxonomy of IW/IO, we have Cyberwar,
essentially involving the organised cracking of other people's systems,
to spy, to deceive and alter, or to deny services. We also have the
historically well established discipline of Propaganda, Psychological
Operations or "Perception Management", essentially the use of
information to confuse, deceive, mislead, destabilise and disrupt an
opponent's population and armed forces. Then we have the Second Oldest
Profession, the well proven art of intelligence/espionage and its
sibling, the theory of deception, aimed at divining secrets from an
opponent, inserting falsehoods into their perception of reality, and
preventing the opponent from doing the same.
This however is only part of a much bigger picture. The
well established discipline of Electronic Combat/Warfare (EC/EW), or
Radio-Elektronnaya Borba (REB) in the nomenclature of the thankfully now
departed Soviet Empire, deals with the jamming and destruction via hard
kill of an opponent's radars and communications, and the prevention of
an opponent from doing the same. Indeed there is much confusion in many
parts of the EC/EW community, to this very day, with many using the
terms EW and IW interchangeably. This is unfortunately a misleading
simplification. Many of the fundamental paradigms in EC/EW are common to
IW/IO, but this is because they are a subset of IW/IO.
The breadth of IW/IO as a discipline, its sheer
complexity, and the overlapping of many if its constituent components
has created many unfortunate side effects. One is that it has produced
numerous opportunities for fringe players in all related disciplines to
assert their paradigm as being central, thereby creating much fodder for
IW/IO sceptics. Indeed, in many organisations the paradigm has produced
distinct internal turf wars, as various players try to expand their
respective internal fiefdoms to absorb as much of the paradigm as
possible, and thus available budget. There is plenty of anecdotal
evidence of this, much of which is best left unprinted.
Is there a fundamental underlying truth which we can
distill from this babel of terminology, doctrine, strategy and technique
Perhaps the simplest way of defining what IW/IO is all
about, is to say that any organised use or manipulation of
information/knowledge which produces an advantage in a contest with an
opponent, constitutes an aspect of IW/IO. Whether the use or
manipulation is applied against the wetware in an opponent's head, or
the software and hardware in an opponent's technological base, is a
matter of instantiation.
My fellow IW/IO theorists will no doubt be yawning by
now: "where's the punchline, Carlo ?".
The punchline is a very simple one:
paradigm of IW/IO appears to be a basic evolutionary adaptation
resulting from competition in the survival game. Whether it is the game
of chemical deception played by a micro-organism against an immune
system, or the use of camouflage and deception by prey and predator
alike in every tier of the natural world, or whether it is some part of
the complex structures we use to describe the modern IW/IO paradigm, the
fundamental paradigm is essentially one and the same.
Therefore quibbling over definitions and demarkation
boundaries, which characterises a large part of the public and not so
public debate on the subject, is simply complicating a very simple and
If we are to apply a classification scheme to the most
basic strategies in IW/IO, they can be divided into four simple
In the bounded context of IW/IO as defined above, we can
quite comfortably accept the "four strategy" model as being the most
basic structural paradigm which exists for the phenomenon. The abundance
of examples in the biological world merely underscores the fundamental
nature of IW/IO.
IW/IO sceptics/opponents/detractors should carefully
consider their fundamental premise at this point in the argument - can
you disprove the existence of IW/IO strategies as survival tools in a
competitive universe, driven by the survival of the best adapted ?
A single counterexample would suffice to disprove their
Why Information Warfare
at the turn of the Millennium?
The next interesting question we can ask is why IW/IO
now, if it has been such a great part of our established reality for so
long ? Indeed this could be said to be the crux of many doubters' basic
rejection of the paradigm.
The simplest answer is to point out that until recent
times, the basic strategies of IW/IO were embedded, implicitly, within a
great number of very diverse disciplines many of which had few obvious
connections. All of this changed as we began the transition from
smokestack industrial age economies to "digitised" information age,
knowledge based economies.
For centuries, the knowledge required for the basic
economic processes of wealth creation, and the art and science of war,
were locked away in the heads of members of occupations, vocations,
professions and guilds. If you wanted a sword you went to an armourer,
if you wanted a loaf of bread, a baker. Knowledge of processes was
passed down, generation by generation, largely by word of mouth. Every
once in a while some bright individual produced a new idea, which
proliferated, and those who used it gained an economic or military
advantage against other players.
The value of knowledge is that it ultimately provides
for a recipe to perform a specific task or set of tasks, or to perform
them more successfully. If these tasks pertain to wealth creation or
warfare, both competitive and survival centred social activities, that
knowledge carries within itself an inherent survival value. The more
effective the knowledge is when applied to such competitive activities,
the greater its value.
Gutenberg's printing press produced the technological
foundation for the industrial age, since it allowed the dissemination of
exact copies of pieces of knowledge to a wide audience. Ultimately, by
purchasing a decent pile of engineering or process textbooks and
digesting their contents, anybody could go out and manufacture whatever
they chose to make. The industrial age postal system combined the time
proven courier with the printed message to produce a robust means of
accurately transmitting knowledge.
It is worth noting that one of the first large scale
uses of the printing press was to wage the propaganda war between the
reformation clerics and the Catholic church.
Economically and militarily valuable knowledge has
always been a jealously guarded secret, and this justifiable paranoia
about it not falling into the wrong hands became a major issue during
both of the industrial age world wars. The complexity of some of the
espionage and deception strategy plays during this period is quite
remarkable. The industrial age boom in the West would have been
impossible without printed textbooks, papers and replicated drawings. It
is also significant that the Soviet revolutionaries used the press to
great effect, as did Hitler and Mussolini who also exploited cinema and
radio, the precursors of the modern electronic media.
The postwar development of genuine electronic media,
followed by the development of the digital computer and its mass
production, set the stage for the transition to the modern information
age we live in. Combining the digital computer technology base with the
well established technologies of analogue communications provided the
basis for the modern digital communications network, and ultimately the
The fundamental change which arose with the
proliferation of computing and digital technology is the speed with
which knowledge (and garbage information as well) can be transmitted and
processed. This is a pervasive paradigm . Whether we are replacing
cheques and letters of credit with EFT protocols, FTP-ing production
data between sites, emailing correspondence or research data, or
datalinking target coordinates between bomber and guided weapon, the
digital technology base allows almost instantaneous and almost error
free transmission of knowledge.
Many contemporary military theorists identify the
greatest value of the digital revolution as being "coordination, speed
and precision", in the context of destroying an opponent's forces. In
the context of a modern economy, the same speed and precision
characteristic of a well implemented digital system means that many
processes can be greatly accelerated, and hitherto unseen levels of
coordination between multiple players achieved. This is true of finance,
stock markets, manufacturing, research and development. Therefore those
economic players who master the digital environment can potentially
acquire a huge competitive advantage over those who do not. This is
especially true in commerce. Not surprisingly, extremist special
interest groups, ultra-nationalists and proto-fascist parties have taken
to the digital revolution with alarming alacrity.
Speed, coordination and precision are decisive
advantages in the economic, military and political games, and the
military term "force multiplier" describes the effects of well
implemented "digitisation" upon an organisation very nicely. Such an
organisation can produce results out of all proportion to its size,
compared to its industrial age equivalent.
The possession of a digital infrastructure is one of the
key determinants of military power and economic strength today. It
should not be surprising that the Asian meltdown had little effect in
Australia, the most digitised economy in the region.
The digital infrastructure is the enabling technology
base for the current globalisation paradigm, and its proliferation is in
no small part responsible for much of the economic restructuring in
If current trends continue the world will be divided
into two major classes of nation, wealthy developed nations with large
digital infrastructures, and poor industrial and agrarian economy
nations with non-existent or weak digital infrastructures. In developed
nations, wealth will concentrate in the hands of those who master the
digital infrastructure, and those who cannot will become increasingly
poorer. Mastering the digital revolution is no different from mastering
the printed word, centuries ago. The rewards accrue to those who exploit
the technology most effectively.
Every major paradigm in technology, and its associated
changes in the patterns of wealth and military power, has spawned
conflict. Indeed much of the Marxist paradigm of class warfare is
predicated on this model. In a sense it is curious that the Sovs fell on
their own sword, having never mastered the digital revolution.
The digital revolution is no different, with disaffected
minorities in developed nations making themselves known. The Seattle WTO
riots, the proliferation of extremist websites, and the increasing
popularity of ultra-nationalists like the Hansonites in Australia, and
similar parties and groups in the EU and the US are all examples.
On an international scale, we see the growing influence
of fundamentalist Muslim popular movements in the Islamic nations, and
an increasingly hostile and disaffected Russia, China and to a lesser
degree India. Of the three, only India has a decent foothold in the
digital age, with China critically dependent upon commodity
manufacturing for developed consumer markets, and Russia slowly
disintegrating. Most South East Asian nations have also fallen foul of
the digital revolution, indeed the rapid and massive withdrawal of
investment capital during the Asian meltdown could not have been
executed without the modern digital infrastructure.
The importance of IW/IO today is a simple consequence of
the reality, that the digital infrastructure in the developed world
processes, concentrates and carries the flow of knowledge which provides
us with our decisive economic and military advantage against other
players. The same effect, on a lesser scale, applies within developed
nations, dividing those who accumulate wealth from those who cannot
The digital infrastructure is thus a lucrative target,
in every sense, since it provides a single point of failure for the
developed world's economic and military power base. It is also a capable
weapon for penetrating our economic, military and political fabric,
exploitable by foreign and domestic players with hostile agendas.
Consider an ostensibly benign medium like the Usenet
news group. I have witnessed this medium being used for the propagation
and dissemination of malicious conspiracy theories, racist propaganda,
ultra-nationalist Russian and Serbian propaganda, neo-Stalinist
propaganda and Stalinist re-interpretations of history, anti-Semitic
propaganda, and plain military dis-information during the Serbian air
war, all on the one newsgroup ! Whether we define the boundaries of
warfare to be confined by classical Marxist "class warfare" between
mutually opposed domestic groups, or nation states, black propaganda (ie
fibbing) is a tool of warfare. The very same newsgroup which provided
one of the key platforms used to demolish the mischievous Arnett/CNN
Tailwind "nerve gas canard" was at the very same time being used as a
propaganda platform by Russian ultra-nationalists and neo-Stalinists !
During this same period a major aerospace vendor was
caught on the same newsgroup, when several corporate public affairs
personnel using third party ISP addresses to conceal their identities,
argued the merits of their products over a competitors' !
The highly effective use of a website and newsgroup
advocacy by Australia's Hansonites during the peak of their popularity,
two years ago, underscores the value of the digital infrastructure as a
political and propaganda tool, and thus an instrument of both
intra-national and international warfare.
Not surprisingly the NATO website was subjected to a
range of Serbian denial of service attacks during the Serbian air war,
while the USAF were at the same time claimed to be hacking into Serbia's
air defence network to insert misleading information. Equally it should
come as no surprise that the Indonesian foreign affairs ministry
website was hosting, during the peak of the Timor crisis, an almost
comical package of nasty and untruthful anti-Australian excerpts from
the ultra-nationalist Jakarta press. Comically inept to knowledgeable
parties but nevertheless qualifying as black propaganda of the most
Gibsonian cyberwar may have indeed captured the public
imagination as the most critical aspect of the IW/IO paradigm, but if
history teaches us anything, the use of new information distribution
media to wage propaganda wars may be the area in which the greatest
political and military impact is seen.
Arquilla and Ronfeldt defined the paradigm of "Netwar"
to describe the emergence of diffuse, often trans-national, distributed
forms of warfare, in which the players are largely hidden to avoid
conventional attack, using the general populace to hide within. It is no
coincidence that Netwar emerged strongly as an issue during the nineties
(even if much of the basic paradigm has been central to terrorist and
guerilla movements for most of this century). The digital
infrastructure has been an enabler for Netwar, providing global and near
instantaneous connectivity. Indeed global digital media such as the
Iridium LEO constellation are a tremendous tool for exactly this kind of
political or military play.
There can be no doubt that the digital revolution has
brought about some very fundamental changes in today's world, the full
impact of which we have yet to see. Part 2 will explore current issues