Information Warfare: The Year Ahead 

Will 2018 be a year without conflict? Not likely. Will we see information warfare in 2018? Most definitely. Indeed, the possibility of information warfare being the impetus for a nation’s kinetic response is just as real as ever, if not more so.

Gen. Keith Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, while speaking at the Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference highlighted the difference between cyberwar and espionage. Cyberwar, he said, is to inflict damage, while espionage is spying to learn secrets. As recent examples of cyberwar, Alexander cited the attacks on Sony and the Ukraine’s infrastructure. The concern going forward, he concluded, is that cyberwar has the potential to trigger kinetic military retaliation.

That is precisely what the author of “Inside Cyber Warfare,” Jeffery Carr, has cautioned, especially when it comes to the potential of physical conflict arising from information war by error. “It’s no longer possible to differentiate between the actions of nation states and malicious groups,” he said. This danger is compounded by the reality that both the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency can’t stop leaks of their offensive toolsets, “which almost immediately find their way into the hands of bad actors,” he said.

In 2018, nations including Iran, North Korea and Israel will leverage information assets in their ongoing low-intensity conflicts with adversaries. Iran and North Korea will likely continue to demonstrate their ability to destroy assets, be it through manipulation of control systems or compromised data.

In addition, China’s doctrine of “Unrestricted Warfare” remains. The Chinese doctrine calls for new types of warfare to be conducted by civilians as well as soldiers, and includes digital attacks as well as trade and economic wars. Despite multiple cybersecurity bilateral agreements signed with various nations, China will continue to engage cyberespionage under a thin veil of plausible deniability, as it leverages civilian proxies to conduct information-gathering efforts into public and private systems.

For its part, Russia will flex its offensive cyber capabilities, with special emphasis in active measures. Russia will continue to target NATO and both Balkan and Baltic states as they continue to tighten ties with NATO.

The Washington Post reported how the Pentagon expects future conflict to rely heavily on AI, big data and the cloud. “The U.S. can either lead … or fall victim to” these technologies, the Pentagon said. The United States and its allies will undoubtedly be playing cyber-defense in 2018.

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Christopher Burgess

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is a writer, speaker and commentator on security issues. He is a former Senior Security Advisor to Cisco and served 30+ years within the CIA which awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century”. He also founded the non-profit: Senior Online Safety.

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