Information warfare/information war are often mentioned in conjunction with measures and acts aimed exclusively at cyberspace, such as hacking computers, servers, or information networks to either gain new information or to control or disable technology. Recently, the term became applicable to processes that do not involve cyber attacks and cyber warfare. Information war is not a new phenomenon and existed since ancient times, long before the advent of computers and the internet. Warring parties have always tried to use information, rumors, and propaganda to mislead, demoralize, and disorient the enemy. With the rise of new means of disseminating information, such as television and radio, the possibilities for waging information war have expanded. The emergence of the internet, social networks, and instant messengers has significantly reduced the cost and simplified the methods of waging information wars. Taking advantage of technological progress, parties today can constantly fabricate and disseminate information campaigns against each other. The internet and social media have also reduced the time needed from conceiving an idea to its implementation. Sometimes societies and individuals who find themselves in the midst of an information war find it difficult to distinguish reality from propaganda. Information war does not destroy buildings, but it can destroy foundations of a society, and stability of states.
Active measures are a series of politically motivated covert and overt operations, which also include an information component. The term was coined to primarily describe KGB operations around the world during the Cold War. Such methods were resorted to not only by the USSR; Western countries also actively employed similar methods during the same timeframe. After the collapse of the USSR, the term fell out of use in world media and scientific literature. However, Vladimir Putin’s rapid rise to power along with an increase in tensions between the West and Russia as well as growing ambitions of China prompted experts and researchers to revive the term. In today’s world, active measures are employed not only by Russia, Great Britain, the USA or China, but also by small and medium-sized countries as well as large corporations and political or religious groups. The rise of information technologies reduced the cost and expanded the possibilities for conducting such measures. Today, the methods of KGB’s First Chief Directorate have been successfully adapted to modern technologies and are used both in politics and business.
Disinformation is patently false information, sometimes created using real data to purposefully mislead the enemy, its army, or its intelligence. Sometimes disinformation campaigns can be directed not only against countries but also against groups of people, companies, or individuals. The advent of the internet and the advance of digital technologies have presented new opportunities for the creators and disseminators of disinformation. During the Cold War, one of the largest and longest-running disinformation campaigns carried out by the KGB was known as ‘Operation Infection.’ The term is often confused and used synonymously with the term misinformation, which is an incorrect use of the term; misinformation is dissemination of inaccurate, unverified information without malicious intent, as a result of an error or lack of sufficient information. The 2016 US elections and the COVID-19 pandemic were marked by the spread of large volumes of misinformation by interested countries and groups.
Manipulation is actions and measures aimed at intentionally misleading the society, public opinion, or a group of people. With the development of information technology, manipulation has reached a qualitatively new, higher, and more advanced level. Social networks, media, television, and even movies are used to varying degrees by various actors to manipulate public consciousness or a particular group of people. Manipulation can be used with the aim to achieve political, economic, religious and other goals.
False flag operations were first described in the 16th century when pirates wrongfully used the flags of various countries while carrying out their attacks. For example, English pirates would use French flags to attack Spanish ships and colonies. Since then, false flag operations were widely used by belligerents during hostilities or civil wars. During the Cold War, false flag operations were commonly used by the Russian KGB and the East German Stasi. False flag operations are also widely used in information warfare, both at the level of states and the level of companies, interest groups, and individuals. Fake sites, accounts, pages, and communities on social networks, films – this is just a short list of what can be classified as false flag operations in the field of information warfare. Countries or forces involved in false flag operations in the information field that possess sufficient financial and human resources are able to promptly create an entire information infrastructure for false flag operations. As camouflage techniques and deep fakes advance with every passing year, the work of those involved in false flag operations gets substantially simplified. One of the classic and simple examples of false flag operations in the information field could be creation of a non-existent personality, which, pretending to be an apologist for group “X” would oppose group “Y” being in fact created and managed by the group “Y” or sometimes by entirely outside players.
Psychological warfare (PSYWAR) and psychological operations (PSYOP). In Western terminology, the terms PSYWAR and PSYOP are often used to define psychological warfare or individual psychological operations. Certain elements of psychological warfare can be encountered in ancient history and the Middle Ages. The advent of the press, and later television and the internet increased the capabilities of conducting remote psychological operations. Psychological warfare is mainly aimed at discrediting opponents or their leadership, suppressing the morale of the enemy army, demoralizing diplomats of an enemy or rival country. Psychological warfare and individual operations can be carried out against entire countries, governments or their armies, and can also target individual leaders, politicians or public figures. With the increasing capabilities of large corporations, they can also afford to become participants in full-fledged PSYWAR or PSYOP. Developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence will open a new chapter in PSYWAR and PSYOP, which will be completely different from what we have known and seen so far.
Hybrid warfare/hybrid war (also referred to as proxy war/third-hand war) combine a range of information, diplomatic, military, and often terrorist actions and operations. Modern day examples of hybrid warfare can ben found in the Ukraine, Lebanon, and to an extent in Syria and Iraq. For the armed phase of hybrid warfare, states often resort to assistance from irregular armed groups or organizations. Sometimes such groups or organizations are created specifically to cover up the involvement of a particular state in a conflict. Information warfare is very often part of the larger process of hybrid warfare. In general, countries resort to the tactics of hybrid warfare, using it for an unconventional response, while de jure both sides may not be in a state of war, for instance Ukraine and Russia.
Influence campaigns refers to a range or chain of operations carried out in the information field. These operations can be carried out both by states and corporations, religious or political groups. Modern examples of influence campaigns carried out by foreign states are the operations of China and Russia in the United States, and, on a much smaller scale, similar operations that were also carried out in the United States by Iran and Saudi Arabia. Influence campaigns can also pursue economic interests, with the ultimate goal of generating economic benefits. They can often be implemented in conjunction with active measures, which sometimes leads to confusion in classification. This is partly due to the fact that journalists and researchers covering this topic usually have no work experience in special services and no experience in conducting or organizing such operations, which in turn results in difficulties with detection and classification. To carry out influence campaigns, organizers can engage both their agents of influence in the campaign’s target country and unsuspecting journalists, experts, and representatives of civil society. With the advent of social networks, the focus of influence campaigns has partially shifted to these platforms, which allowed organizers to remotely plan and carry out certain operations. It also created opportunities for widespread creation of fake personalities in the social networks for use as “agents of influence.” Through influence campaigns, an outside power can attempt to promote a convenient candidate in the elections or create a socio-political background favorable for signing of a major agreement between states.