Saturday, 8 March 2014

Information Warfare: Search for a Definition and Nexus with Future Studies

Many governments are acknowledging that information warfare is a major national security threat. The information revolution and growing global interdependence will increasingly result in the governments but also corporate management being confronted directly and indirectly by challenges posed by information warfare. While elements of this phenomenon are as old as humankind, the information age has created unique and new opportunities for information warfare to manifest as an upcoming security threat in the 21st century.

Conceptually differing definitions of what exactly information warfare constitute remains a problem. After a critical evaluation of broad, military and information technology-oriented definitions, information warfare is defined as actions focused on destabilising or manipulating the core information networks of a state or entity in society with the aim of influencing the ability and will to project power as well as efforts to counter similar attacks by an opposing entity and/or state (van Vuuren, 2009).

The core of this argument is that information as a power instrument can be used in both offensive and defensive roles. The definition proposed for information warfare encompasses three forms of manifestation of information warfare, namely netwar, psychological operations and cyberwarfare. The differentiation between the three manifestations is done on a cognitive/technology continuum (van Vuuren, 2009).

This definition of information warfare provides an opportunity to identify the common elements and significant characteristics of this phenomenon. The significance of networked relationships, the information revolution and digital age, are highlighted as central to the development of information warfare. At the same time government and businesses are increasingly vulnerable to information warfare.

While it is clear that information warfare will be a major strategic governance challenge in the future, research and analysis on the options to manage this wide ranging risk would be needed to empower the future leader/manager on all levels to be effective. This begs the question, would it be possible to predict how information warfare will manifest in the future? The short answer is no. While we cannot know the future, we could know more about the future. The future is not given, as there is a multitude of possible futures of which one can manifest. The trans-disciplinary field of futures studies encourages thinking on how today’s actions (or lack thereof) will become the reality of tomorrow. This includes efforts to analyse the causes, patterns and sources of change and stability with the aim of creating foresight and alternative futures. Despite technological progress being an integral part of our society today, civilisation is seemingly racing itself into a “pathologically short attention span”, according to one author, a trend which, he continues, is “boosted by the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, and the distractions of personal multitasking” (Brand 1999:2).

Future studies aims to take the longer view. It is mainly concerned with understanding social realities or “constructs” which create the future as well as the development of sustainable future-oriented visions which can inspire communities and entities (Slaughter 1999:305). In this regard future studies serves as an instrument to research the practical attainment of such views. Social reality can be described as encompassing processes (how things are being done), structures (how things are interrelated), outcomes (why things are done), context (the environment’s influence) and ordering (how things are kept intact) (Gharajedaghi 2006:29).

Futures studies tools such as scenario planning, environmental scanning, trend analysis, the Delphi method and systems thinking are generally used by practitioners and academics. However, in terms of the theoretical underpinning of future studies more work remains necessary. Despite many futurists’ agreeing on the rationale, role and aims of future studies, approaches to future studies differ significantly. In order to overcome such a challenge a futurist model was developed based on an environmental scan focussing on the issue of information warfare (van Vuuren, 2011).

The developed model identifies three main driving forces as central to analysing modern human endeavours, namely the centrality of networks, technological innovation and the prominence of transformation, especially institutional transformation. The value of the model, which also stresses the interactive and system elements, lies in identifying the forces which will be crucial in creating the level of insight into the issue of information warfare as an upcoming management challenge (van Vuuren, 2011).

The mentioned three driving forces are different in the contemporary world compared with anything in past human experience. The first is the level of global integration and the rise of networks, especially social networks. Second, the spread of technology and the growing wealth of many new states and networks have resulted in the simultaneous emergence of a host of new innovative applications changing, political and economic powers across the world, but also creating inequality between states, groups and individuals. Thirdly, societal change has been accelerated to new levels, resulting in transformation being a constant reality affecting nearly all social entities (van Vuuren, 2011).

While the model cannot predict how information warfare will manifest in the future, it can provide the framework for future research on managing this problem. The model suggest that information warfare will be central to all human and consequently economic activities in the future ensuring that all world-class entities both private and governmental will not only have to adopt the challenges that this risk will bring, but ensure that it would be central to most organizational business strategies. 


Brand, S. 1999. The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility. New York: Basic Book Publishers.
Gharajedaghi, J. 2006. Systems thinking: Managing chaos and complexity: A platform for designing business architecture. Burlington: Elsevier Ltd.

Slaughter, R.A. 1999. Futures for the Third Millennium: Enabling the Forward View Sydney: Prospect Media. 

Vuuren, R. Inligtingsoorlogvoering, die opkomende magprojekteringinstrument: soeke na ’n definisie (Information warfare, an upcoming power projection instrument: in search of a definition), LitNet Akademies Vol 6(2) – August 2009.

Vuuren, R. 2011, Toekomsstudie: Instrument vir toekomsskepping (Future studies: Instrument of future creation), LitNet Akademies Vol 8(2)–August 2011.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Information Warfare as Upcoming National Security Threat

The most significant security related events during the industrial age were the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then efforts to manage and control the overwhelming power of nuclear weapons has been at the very least successful in preventing the use of this weapon again in a conflict situation.

Seeing that the information age is still young, the question remains what would be the most significant national security threats, emanating from this age which governments will face in the future. Successful management of these threats depends upon the ability of government leaders to adapt to a rapidly changing global security environment. While security threats associated with the earlier agricultural and industrial age remains relevant, identifying upcoming threats to national security in the information age remains a challenge. Unfortunately, the lead time once enjoyed by decision makers to analyze and respond to these and other changes is decreasing. Traditional long-range planning models, with their inward focus and reliance on historical data, do not encourage decision makers to anticipate environmental changes and assess their impact on the national security (Cope:1981). In this regard the study of a phenomenon currently referred to as “information warfare” does hold some promise, especially if the exponential growth of technology is taken into account.

National security threats remain closely linked to the shifting basis of state power. As the global civilization moved from agriculture to industry and then to information as bases of fundamental state power, the power structures within states also changed. At its core the transformation to an information based society represents a shift from manufacturing to knowledge, where the creation, application and dissemination of knowledge - rather than the production of manufactured goods or agricultural products - is becoming the central defining activity of modern society (Mazarr:1997). This shift has a direct impact on how national security is being viewed by some governments. At the same time there has been an increase in countries studying innovative ways to try to gain an advantage by changing how conflict are managed and power projected. The information society brings new revolutionary technologies and means, which demand change in the way state security, is managed (Lin:2000).

Regardless of shifting global power structures a coherent national security strategy is an important instrument. All states, even those with limited resources, have a broad range of tools at their disposal to advance their interests. These tools, whether diplomatic, economic, informational, or military, provide the means by which they seek to achieve their security objectives. A national security strategy provides a rational framework for specifying interests in a comprehensive and methodical way (Africa Center for Strategic Studies:2005). However, security challenges stemming from the unique demands posed by the information society have only recently been taken into account in terms of national security. It can, however, be expected that information warfare will become a central theme in the future management of information age security threats.

Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Background Paper on the Senior Leader Seminar, Gaborone, Botswana, 19 June to 1 July 2005, p. 1.

Cope, R. G. 1981. Environmental assessments for strategic planning. In Poulton, N.L (Ed.), “Evaluation of management and planning systems” New Directions for Institutional Research, Vol 31, pp. 5-15. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lin, A.C. 2000. Comparison of the Information Warfare Capabilities of the ROC and PRC, 27 December 2000,, (27 October 2005).

Mazarr, J.M. 1997. Global Trends 2005: The Challenge of the New Millennium Center for International Studies.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Digital Disintegration as Global Risk

In the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risks for 2014, digital disintegration is regarded as one of the three risks in which possible interconnections and interdependencies between global risks, could play out systemically over the next 10-year horizon.

In terms of digital disintegration the WEF states: “So far, cyberspace has proved resilient to attacks, but the underlying dynamic of the online world has always been that it is easier to attack than defend. The world may be only one disruptive technology away from attackers gaining a runaway advantage, meaning the Internet would cease to be a trusted medium for communication or commerce. Fresh thinking at all levels on how to preserve, protect and govern the common good of a trusted cyberspace must be developed.”

In terms of the evolving Global Risks Landscape, the issue of cyber-attacks is listed as the fifth most likely risk to manifest in 2014 which in terms of impact could lead to critical information infrastructure breakdown.

Fresh thinking may indeed be necessary to successfully manage this quite serious risk. While earlier predictions about a digital Pearl Harbour now seems sensationalistic, it remains clear that actions taking down parts of the Internet could have devastating consequences.

However, cyber threats are much more complex and cross cutting than stated in the WEF study. Cyber threats are but one manifestation of a much more serious and complex phenomena, namely information warfare, which are already morphing into a national security threat of note.

The reality is that nearly all recent conflict situations have had an information dimension. While information warfare is enhancing power, especially in developing countries, it is also creating new vulnerabilities. It can be assumed that this trend will continue and nearly all future conflict situations will have an information warfare dimension.