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The Effects of Information Warfare on Conflict and Society.

By Paul Laszlo

US History Honors

Doc Voskian


Preface                                3                                                 

Foreword                               4                                                 

Introduction                           5                                                 

History                                5                                                 

Comp-U-War                             6                                                 

Cyberwar                               7                                                 

Netwar                                 9                                                 

Ethics                                 9                                                 

Conclusion                             10                                                

Bibliography                           11                                                


This paper has been researched using only a personal computer connected to the Internet. In the future, more and more information will be made available through electronic means. This "evolution" of information systems will make obsolete many of the current methods for using data. It will also create new problems for the security of all information, and the society that would use it.


Information Warfare

Working Definition

"Information-based Warfare is an approach to armed conflict focusing on the management and use of information in all its forms and at all levels to achieve a decisive military advantage especially in the joint and combined environment. Information-based Warfare is both offensive and defensive in nature -- ranging from measures that prohibit the enemy from exploiting information to corresponding measures to assure the integrity, availability, and interoperability of friendly information assets."

"While ultimately military in nature, Information-based Warfare is also waged in political, economic, and social arenas and is applicable over the entire national security continuum from peace to war and from 'tooth to tail.' Finally, Information-based Warfare focuses on the command and control needs of the commander by employing state-of-the-art information technology such as synthetic environments to dominate the battlefield."

Working definition recognized by the Information Resources Management

College of the National Defense University as of 11/16/93.

"To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."

-Sun Tzu

"The Art of War"


The advent of the computer has marked a new period in human development. Information will become the asset most sought after by individuals and nations. All aspects of life will be altered by the development of the much touted "information age." The one aspect which could have the most devastating effect is the future of information warfare. In coming conflicts, it will not necessarily be the strongest side which emerges victorious, but the side which controls the knowledge.


Despite the recent attention it has been receiving, infowar was first described over two thousand years ago. Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote his military manual, "The Art of War", which remains a staple of military education even today. In it, Tzu expresses that the most important part of any battle is controlling the information on the battlefield. It is not enough to simply know your own strength. In order to win, you must know as much as possible about the enemy. Through careful misinformation and strategic planning, you will never be in peril.

Many military strategists see future land battles in which small, mobile forces compel the surrender of a much larger army. This will be possible because of the superior information they have over their enemy. The design of these forces has been modeled after the Mongols of the thirteenth century. The "hordes" were able to capture and hold an empire that seems immense when compared to the relatively small number of warriors they had to control it with. By keeping the adversary in constant confusion as to the location of troops and the next battle, the Mongols held a monopoly on battlefield information.

It has also been shown that as the technology of war changes, so does the method with which war is fought. The tank was first used at the end of World War One. Although it was quite an imposing sight on the battlefield, it did not significantly alter the direction of the war. This is not because the tank was an inefficient weapon, but because the manner in which it was used limited its potential for destruction. By World War Two however, new military philosophy made the tank an integral part of both side's struggle. The concept of Blitzkrieg would change the entire usage of ground war. This new "lightning war" would attack the enemy quickly, while confusing them as to the direction of the offensive. Confusing and scaring the enemy is simply another application of information warfare.

As we move towards the present, it is obvious that war has become more and more dependent on information in order to be successful. This was recently obvious during the Gulf War. In order to enhance the war effort our bombers dropped leaflets urging Iraqi troops to surrender, news and television was disrupted by American broadcasts, and Saddam's radar was knocked out by our "smart missiles." By blinding the Iraqi forces, we were able to control the war's intelligence, and win with a minimum of bloodshed.


This brand of warfare seems to be the most logical type for a nation as advanced as the United States. Unfortunately, the characteristics that make us powerful are the same ones that make us uniquely vulnerable to an attack of this nature. A recent study by the Rand Corporation has attempted to show exactly where America is vulnerable to this new breed of "Cyberwar."

Through a series of scenarios, Rand has tried to show how an infowar might actually begin. Some of the nefarious activities which hostile nations might employ are blacking out a city's electricity, disrupting telephone service, crashing airplanes, causing trains to collide, and altering financial information. These are all services which are computer controlled and connected to the internet. Because of this connectivity, someone could be attacking America from anywhere in the world. The scenario was created in order to get across several points. The enemy might not be known in a situation like this one. It may be unclear what is being attacked and why. The boundaries of the United States will no longer be a protective barrier. In many ways, America is unprepared should an attack such as this occur.

Attacking through Cyberspace is extremely attractive to developing nations, because the costs involved are slight compared with the potential damage that may be caused. A few experts with a computer and a phone line potentially could cause widespread disorder. Because of the widespread acceptance of computers, there are now more and more people with possible access to dangerous information. A brief list of the people who may abuse the freedom of the Internet includes hackers, criminals, terrorists, and most important, nations. A developing nation could possibly hurt America' military for a fraction of the cost of conventional weapons. Internet links continue to expand to more and more countries. Currently the only nations without connectivity are in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. At the current rate of expansion, even these countries will soon have access.

There have already been several circumstances in which serious damage could have been done. In Bulgaria, several universities teach classes on how to create more effective computer viruses. Anyone who has ever had a hard drive crash knows how dangerous even a minor infection can be. More suprising was the possible use of infowar by the enemy during the Persian Gulf war. According to the Department of Defense, Saddam Hussein was approached by a group of Dutch hackers. They offered to help the Iraqi war effort by damaging the Pentagon's communications systems.

Hackers have also been successful outside the sphere of warfare. A favorite target has become banks and money transfers. Citibank recently caught a group of Russians who had transferred over four-hundred thousand dollars into private accounts in seven countries. In another incident, a Russian hacker operating out of St. Petersburg was also able to break into Citibank's computer system. He transferred more that ten million dollars before being caught. What makes this case extraordinary is not the fact that the hacker almost got away with the theft, but that the case was made public. Banks do not like the bad publicity that comes with computer theft. This case was only made public when Citibank requested the hacker's extradition. These cases are not isolated incidents, however. Security experts anticipate at least three different million dollar thefts each month.

Banks are not the only institutions which are vulnerable to an attack of this nature. Every person in America is directly tied into the computers of both government and private industry. In May of 1995, Admiral William Studeman, an outgoing CIA deputy director, expounded on the problem areas of the United States when dealing with cyberwar. He stated that possible targets "can include U.S. telecommunications, financial systems, ...the stock exchange, the Internal Revenue system of the United States, social security, banking, strategically important companies, research and development, air traffic control systems and high tech databases, all of which are vulnerable today from outside." He went on to explain that "massive networking makes the U.S. the world's most vulnerable target for information warfare." It is because of this vulnerability that the government is currently considering ways to negate the infowar threat.

Several government agencies are currently awaiting permission from the President and the Department of Defense to create a "national infowar strategy." If authorized, information warfare specialists from the Pentagon, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the State Department will develop a system for dealing with the threats that may soon become a reality.


One of the main points that the government will probably include in its infowar strategy is the difference between types of conflict. In another Rand publication, infowar is divided into two distinct types of conflict. The first type, and the one popularized by Time magazine, is Cyberwar. Rand describes Cyberwar as "conducting military operations according to information-related principles." This includes destroying enemy communications systems, knowing everything about your adversary, and controlling the flow of information in the war. These are all concepts which were first developed in the time of Sun Tzu, but are being advanced through modern technology.

Technology has increased so rapidly that there are currently several new fields which are being examined for their military viability. Some of these new areas are Cyberwarriors, Physiological Operations, virtual wars, and computer security.

Soldiers will evolve along with technology. The goal of the army is to digitally connect every soldier on the battlefield. Each soldier will be in constant communication with his command. This will be accomplished through the use of advanced helmets fitted with microphones, night vision glasses, and a "heads up display" which will show each soldier his location and objectives. Up until now, technology this advanced has been restricted to well-developed aircraft and ships. The benefits of equipping ground soldiers with this equipment has been well documented. During simulated war games, forces equipped with the advanced systems were able to easily defeat conventional armies as much as three times as large.

Physiological Operations will continue to be used to lower the morale of enemy troops and civilians. During the Gulf War, a modified cargo plane code named Commander Solo wreaked havoc with the Iraqi army. The advanced electronics in the seventy million dollar plane make it possible to jam a country's radio and television signals, while substituting new messages favorable to America's war effort. By broadcasting the locations likely to be attacked by US bombers, we were able to scare many troops into deserting. During the conflict in Haiti, CIA agents sent threatening E-mail to Haitian leaders with personal computers. Haitian citizens were also given a barrage of leaflets encouraging them to rise against the dictatorship. Other methods are under consideration for discrediting foreign leaders and intimidating enemy troops. By making an army reluctant to fight, America can enter a conflict as a dominant force.

A new concept in war preparedness is the fighting of Virtual Wars. Before any live troops are sent into a battle situation, the entire conflict can be fought out numerous times using computers. Any number of variables can be included in order to instruct a general on the best usage of his troops. The conception of a virtual war also includes a way for high ranking personnel to easily oversee all of the elements of the battle. Systems are currently being designed which will allow admirals to see a three dimensional display of all the forces in an area. The computer will constantly evaluate the situation and give ample warning in case of a threat.

The growing field of computer security will become even more lucrative as more people need to protect the information on their systems. One such protection agency is the Automated Systems Security incident Support Team. This pentagon agency is responsible for aiding the military whenever they have a computer glitch. The team received more than twenty thousand calls in the last year alone. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is also taking steps to protect the military's computer systems. This agency stands ready to solve computer and communications problems at sixteen of the military's main computer centers. In order to improve security from outside attacks, DISA has recently signed its biggest contract ever for antivirus software.


Cyberwar encompasses a large part of information warfare. This is because up until now infowar has mainly been a military invention. Rand Corporation's describes the remainder of information warfare as netwar. Netwar is defined as "information-related conflict at a grand level between nations or societies." Unlike cyberwar, netwar can involve a much broader range of circumstances. The purpose of a netwar is to change the way that a group of people sees itself and the world around it. This type of conflict will become much more common as diversified groups come to understand the new power of communications. Areas that might be addressed by netwar have been identified as "environmental, human rights, ...nuclear proliferation, drug smuggling and antiterrorism." There is no way to tell what the results might be if a hostile group began using propaganda and deception within the media in order to gain public attention. In several articles, different organizations, and at least one political party, have been accused of trying to scare citizens into supporting their cause. These groups could have an even larger effect were they to break into computer networks or promote uprisings through the media.

The future of information based conflicts relies heavily on the preparations which we make today and the public opinion of Americans. The same basic rules which have governed military actions in the past do not cease to apply because of new technology. America has always been reluctant to assassinate other country's leaders, because we are so vulnerable to the same kind of attack. The same philosophy applies when dealing with information warfare. America must think twice before becoming involved in a situation which could backfire and cause problems at home.

Another area of debate is that of ethics and war crimes. Because of the nature of information warfare, it is easier to disrupt civilian targets than military ones when dealing with foreign powers. It needs to be taken into consideration whether interfering with a civilian population is considered an act of war. One example which has been bitterly debated is the possibility of crashing another nations stock market. We have the power to throw an entire nations financial system into disarray. What has not been resolved is the ethical and moral consequences of these actions. Devaluating a nations currency would have global impact which would effect not only the nations involved, but also the world economy.


Other nations do not seem to have the same qualms about using information warfare for their own purposes. Several government computer experts have made allegations that foreign corporations are using their intelligence services, including information warfare departments, in order to spy on United States corporations. Some of the target corporations are making advancements in biotechnology, aerospace, telecommunications, and other sensitive fields. In the last few years, the distinction between legal and illegal intelligence gathering has become blurred. The United States has already made clear that it will not resort to these practices by using computers or any other means. Former CIA director Robert Gates said in 1993 that "the U.S. intelligence community does not and will not engage in industrial espionage." Confusing as it seems, the question now is if the U.S. should use espionage to ensure that foreign corporations are not spying on American corporations. At least one reporter has stated that, "This is uncomfortably close to the use of blackmail to stop bribery."


Although information warfare and the Internet were originally military inventions, they have now fallen to the private sector to police. It is in our best interests to keep the internet as regulation free as possible while providing security for both individuals and nations. From its simplest form in ancient China, Infowar has evolved to become an integral part of both conflict and society. America in particular is vulnerable to information attacks because of our rapid technological advancement. The technology has evolved to the point where anyone has the capabilities to stage an attack. The United States no longer provides a safe haven. Government cannot protect the population from this kind of threat. If we are to emerge as victors, the main burden must rest on the private sector. Industry will quickly realize that providing security is in its own best interest, and in the long run pays for itself.

We have entered a whole new era of human consciousness. To paraphrase a famous philosopher, the price of this era will be our eternal vigilance. We must take it upon ourselves to make secure our information from those who would misuse it. In return for this, when asked, "Where do you want to go today?" we can reply, "Everywhere."


As all research was done over the Internet, after each bibliographic entry, the address of each source is also included. Because of the electronic medium, not all page numbers can be accurately represented.

Arquilla, John J. and David F. Ronfeldt. Cyberwar is Coming. Vol. 12, Comparative Strategy. pp. 141-165, 1993.

Brandt, Daniel. "Infowar and Disinformation: From the Pentagon to the Net." NameBase NewsLine, October-December 1995.

Gompert, David C. "Keeping Information Warfare in Perspective." RAND Research Review, Fall 1995.

Hundley, Richard O. and Robert H. Anderson. Security in Cyberspace: An Emerging Challenge for Society. P-7893, 1994.

"Information Warfare: A Two Edged Sword." RAND Research Review, Fall 1995.

James, Lt. Shawn D., USN. Information Warfare: A Phenomenon, an Innovation, or a New Paradigm? March, 1995.

Monro, Neil. "The Pentagon's New Nightmare: An Electronic Pearl Harbor." The Washington Post, July 16, 1995.

Thompson, Mark. "If War Comes Home." Time, August 21, 1995. Volume 146, No. 8. 950821.cover.warathome.html.

Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963

Waller, Douglas. "Onward Cyber Soldiers." Time, August 21, 1995. Vol. 146, No. 8. 950821.cover.html.

_________. "America's Persuader in the Sky." Time, August 21, 1995. Vol. 146, No. 8.