WHAT IS INFORMATION WARFARE?
In recent years, a concept known as "information warfare" has
become popular within certain circles of the U.S. defense
establishment. The concept is rooted in the undisputable fact that
information and information technologies are increasingly important
to national security in general and to warfare specifically.
According to this concept, advanced conflict will increasingly be
characterized by the struggle over information systems. All forms
of struggle over control and dominance of information are
considered essentially one struggle, and the techniques of
information warfare are seen as aspects of a single discipline.
Those who master the techniques of information warfare will
therefore find themselves at an advantage over those who have not;
indeed, information warfare will, in and of itself, relegate other,
more traditional and conventional forms of warfare to the
sidelines. If it takes information warfare seriously enough, the
United States, as the world's preeminent information society, could
increase its lead over any opponent. If it fails to do so,
proponents argue, it may be at considerable disadvantage,
regardless of strengths in other military dimensions.
This essay examines that line of thinking and indicates
several fundamental flaws while arguing the following points:
- Information warfare, as a separate technique of waging war,
does not exist. There are, instead, several distinct forms of
information warfare, each laying claim to the larger concept. Seven
forms of information warfare -- conflicts that involve the
protection, manipulation, degradation, and denial of information --
can be distinguished: (i) command-and-control warfare (which
strikes against the enemy's head and neck), (ii)
intelligence-based warfare (which consists of the design,
protection, and denial of systems that seek sufficient knowledge to
dominate the battlespace), (iii) electronic warfare (radio-
electronic or cryptographic techniques), (iv) psychological
warfare (in which information is used to change the minds of
friends, neutrals, and foes), (v) "hacker" warfare (in which
computer systems are attacked), (vi) economic information
warfare (blocking information or channelling it to pursue economic
dominance), and (vii) cyberwarfare (a grab bag of futuristic
scenarios). All these forms are weakly related. The concept of
information warfare has as much analytic coherence as the concept,
for instance, of an information worker.
- The several forms range in maturity from the historic (that
information technology influences but does not control) to the
fantastic (which involves assumptions about societies and
organizations that are not necessarily true).
- Although information systems are becoming important, it does
not follow that attacks on information systems are therefore more
worthwhile. On the contrary, as monolithic computer,
communications, and media architectures give way to distributed
systems, the returns from many forms of information warfare
- Information is not in and of itself a medium of warfare, except
in certain narrow aspects (such as electronic jamming). Information
superiority may make sense, but information supremacy (where one
side can keep the other from entering the battlefield) makes little
more sense than logistics supremacy.
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