Information Operations Multiply With the Value of Information

November 17, 2008

As information has increased in value with the dynamism of the information age, so too have operations against it. Information operations used to be the purview of the military, but now they have become an element of cyberspace in general. Thus, the threats that once were limited to the military realm now are appearing in civil government and commerce. As military-style information operations begin to wreak havoc in civilian cyberspace, military-style countermeasures will need to be deployed.

The flip side of this coin is that the military is making greater use of information technologies and capabilities drawn from the commercial sector. So, the vulnerabilities that have characterized civilian cyberspace now are moving into the military realm. This cries out for commercial solutions to protect both military and civilian information assets.

And the threats to cyberspace are becoming more sophisticated across the board. The melding of useful cyberspace capabilities has its match in information operations. Cybermarauders ranging from basement hackers to foreign governments are adopting increasingly similar methodologies. Information operations now are being waged by virtually anyone with malice of intent in cyberspace.

In some cases, diverse malevolent groups are joining forces to wage their own forms of information operations for profit or political gain. Organized crime long has known the value of hacking into financial databases. Their efforts could be supplemented by a hostile government or terrorist group that seeks to carry out operations that cripple or even collapse a nation’s economy. A teaming arrangement could bring each partner greater success in their endeavors—more money for the crime organization, more geopolitical impact for the hostile government.

The good news is that civil government and the commercial sector are aware of the threat and are taking steps to defend against it. In the United States, the executive branch is pushing guidelines to promote standards for the private sector to develop security solutions to protect the critical infostructure. For its part, the commercial sector recognizes the need and is working with government to meet the challenge.

Both groups hope to draw from the military’s expertise in defensive information operations, and the military stands to gain from the commercial solutions that will apply to its commercial information capabilities. The military already is establishing new facilities and methodologies that go beyond traditional information operations. Its goal is to break the existing mold of fighting a holding action and actually move ahead of the cyberspace attacker.

Calling the information operations threat to cyberspace a global one constitutes the use of an obsolete concept. By definition, everything in cyberspace is global because its reach knows no geographical boundaries. Geographical characteristics do not apply in the least. So, to say that information operations in cyberspace are global in nature is akin to describing outer space in two dimensions.

Similarly, attempting to delineate parts of information operations—some of which, such as electronic warfare, predate the concept of information operations—is useful only for execution. The issue no longer is the means; the issue is the target and the goal. The target is information, and the goal may range from minor disruption to data theft, espionage and sabotage. Whichever goal it may be, as information has become the new currency of this century, information operations now reach into every application of cyberspace. And, all aspects of cyberspace must gird for the fight.

—The Editor

More information on information operations is available in the December 2008 issue of SIGNAL Magazine, in the mail to AFCEA members and subscribers December 1, 2008. For information about purchasing this issue, joining AFCEA or subscribing to SIGNAL, contact AFCEA Member Services.