Professor Roberto Di Pietro And Spiridon Bakiras

Next Generation Information Warfare

18 Feb 2019

Next Generation Information Warfare
By Dr. Roberto Di Pietro and Dr. Spiridon Bakiras

Information has always played a decisive role in any type of conflict, whether it be war, revolution or market competition. Predicting, or learning of, the next course of action that will be taken by an opponent can provide a considerable advantage.

It should therefore come as no surprise that a crucial element of any conflict is fought from an information perspective. In particular, a specific segment of interest is constituted by the fact that information trusted by a target may be subject to manipulation, without the target’s awareness.

Making decisions based on this counterfeit information is obviously against the interests of the intended victim, since their decision process could be influenced, or even controlled, by their adversary. Manipulation of trusted information is therefore part of Information Warfare.

Over the years, we have witnessed an evolution in the way information is produced, transmitted and consumed. In particular, the advent of the Internet made physical distance almost irrelevant, completely revolutionizing the information communication ecosystem.

The related introduction of web pages, forums and social media has radically changed many aspects of users’ lives from a social point of view, leading to a new logic of information consumption that may prefer speed and immediacy to accuracy and reliability.

During the sharing process, the information itself undergoes adjustments and enrichment, teasing active participation from a dynamic audience, resulting in the fact that original sources, opinions and even fake contributions can be difficult to discern.

People, and eventually society at large, are also potential targets in modern Information Warfare.

Hence, there is a need to revise our view on the typical targets of Information warfare, interpreting them through the lens of the digital age, and focusing on the following:

The fabric of society

New technologies, including social networks, media sharing services and online forums make information sharing and propagation extremely rapid. The almost infinite quantity of information, truthful and not, that individuals can find on the web results in people’s ideas and thoughts no longer being built autonomously.

Information Warfare could threaten the fabric of society, for instance, by disrupting the electoral process in democratic states, through the orchestration of disinformation campaigns to cause unrest and discredit people or governments, or by indoctrinating residents in states with authoritarian rulers.

The economy

The economy of a nation is the overall production, distribution and trade of goods and services operated by different economic agents within the national boundaries. External influences, like foreign governments or terrorist groups, could attack the economy of a nation in different ways and with varied goals, such as weakening defense capabilities before a military attack or destabilizing the country and creating chaos amongst the population.

On the one hand, new technologies can help to improve and optimize economic processes, while on the other hand they introduce previously unseen vulnerabilities. One of the objectives of Information Warfare is to threaten the economy of a nation, hence weakening the citizens’ economic wellbeing and the government’s capability.

Critical Infrastructures

Critical infrastructure is an umbrella term used by governments to group all those resources that are essential for the economic, financial and social systems of a country. The protection of these resources is crucial because their destruction (or even partial or momentary unavailability) could cause significant harm to society, and even jeopardize human lives.

Unfortunately, the increase of the attack surface, due to the introduction of new technologies, opens the gates to novel and dreadful attacks to critical infrastructures, aimed at causing extensive damage. Real-world examples of such attacks are malware, SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and drone attacks, where Information Warfare is an instrumental tool in the success of such attacks.

To mitigate such attacks, addressing all of these aspects require the joint cooperation of industry, scholars and governmental organizations. This is where HBKU, with its interdisciplinary research programs, can play a vital role in the security of business, government and society. HBKU is the leading provider of cybersecurity education in Qatar. It offers the country’s only MSc degree in cybersecurity, as well as, executive training programs.

Apart from offering graduate studies and academic degrees, HBKU is leading research efforts in Qatar in the cybersecurity arena. Its faculty and researchers are involved in numerous research projects, such as drone security, avionics security, IoT security, data privacy, and blockchain technology. These projects have attracted the interest of key stakeholders in Qatar, including the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Transport and Communications.