Information Warfare: Old Wine in a New Bottle
cyberspace and information channels are now called as modern battlegrounds where information is being used as a weapon. This has become a similar race, like the arms race, to compete in controlling the information
The information has gained unmatched importance as a strategic weapon in hybrid conflicts due to development in communication infrastructure and increased flow of information in the societies. It has the potential to defeat the enemy without fighting as Sun Tzu said that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. In this dimension of war, states do not take control of the territory of the enemy state but endeavors to have control over channels of information and influence the mind-sets. The massive flow of information and exponential rise of information resources have made it difficult to differentiate whether the information is true or deliberately biased. The facts are manipulated to change public opinion. It also influences the people who are influential in the decision-making process and these people unknowingly become facilitators for the enemy’s agenda against their state.
Information warfare is distinct from the other wars as it does not use physical force and many call it an invisible weapon of war. Information warfare doesn’t have to be preceded by conventional war. Besides, information warfare does not necessarily result in casualties as it happens in the battlegrounds where physical force is used. Means of propaganda, deception, or manipulation are used to take control of information resources to change perceptions of people who reside in the targeted state. Information operations can lead to conventional wars. If such a situation emerges, then the opponent states do not leave this dimension of warfare, rather they try to gain control or have access to information systems of each other to intentionally spread the misinformation or distort the information, which may help them to have a strategic advantage over the other. Therefore, in the contemporary world, wars and conflicts have got a hybrid character.
In hybrid conflicts, it has become more important that who have control over the flow of information as it has a decisive impact during the conflict and even after the end of the conflict. Therefore, cyberspace and information channels are now called as modern battlegrounds where information is being used as a weapon. This has become a similar race, like the arms race, to compete in controlling the information. The information operations can broadly be categorized into two types: non-cyber and cyber. Cyber-attacks cause modification, disruption, or cancellation of informative data without having the right to access the information. These attacks can be in two basic forms. In the first form, it will attack a source which would not be able to transfer the information and this disruption would eventually break the communication infrastructure. Moreover, in the second form of attack, the opponent will have the access to the source but the information will be altered by the cyber-attack. This type of attack would change the original information and spread misleading and false facts that would serve the interests of the opponent state. In simple words, it can be said that the main purpose of a cyber-attack is to either change/alter or steal the information. Anyhow, print media and electronic media have been important to spread fake news but social media has emerged as the most lethal tool of information warfare in recent years. Social Media has dramatically increased the flows of information across the globe.
In recent years, especially since 2018, Pakistan has witnessed a significant rise in the spread of Fake News. On October 25, 2018, Avi Scharf, who is editor of the English edition of Haaretz, tweeted the details of a private jet flying from Tel Aviv to Islamabad. The impact of this fake news reached a surprising level as the government of Pakistan had to explain that the news was fake. Similarly, in October 2020, Indian renowned social media handlers and news websites spread fake news about a civil war in Pakistan. Though this campaign by Indian sites and social media soon turned into a laughing stock, it raised serious concerns that there is a need to combat fake news as it has a damaging impact not only on people inside Pakistan but also on the international image of the country. It is pertinent to mention that, on December 11, 2020, Disinfo Lab released a report exposing a 15-year old Indian operation against Pakistan. According to the report, India has been using hundreds of fake media outlets to undermine and malign Pakistan at the international level. It has been termed as the biggest network of fake media sites, which has been exposed, so far.
To cut the story short, both, cyber and non-cyber, strategies have become increasingly important in the information warfare to achieve political, economic and strategic objectives of the states at the regional and global level and it poses a serious threat to human, national and international security.