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.