sitemapInformation Warfare
Information Warfare

Dr. Randall Whitaker

Adjunct Researcher
Institutionen för Informatik
Umeå Universitet

Revised Version of May 1998


So What is Information Warfare? The Information Warfare Mania
The Categories of IW Foci to Date Menu: Offerings in this Webspace


communications security, computer security, COMSEC, COMPSEC, COMPUSEC, cyberspace, cyberwar, cyberwarfare, electronic warfare, EW, hackers, hyperwar, information assurance, information dominance, information operations, information ops, information revolution, information security, INFOSEC, information superiority, information warfare, IW, IW-D, Military Technical Revolution (MTR), netwar, network centric warfare, Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), third wave war (-fare), warfare

Copyright © 1995, 1998 Randall Whitaker.
Unless otherwise specified, material from this Webspace may be freely cited, copied, and/or distributed, so long as the author attribution is included.

The views expressed in these Web pages are my own, and should not be taken to reflect the ideas and/or positions of Umeå Universitet, the United States Air Force, or Logicon.

So What is 'Information Warfare'?

(One) Official Definition:

"Any action to deny, exploit, corrupt, or destroy the enemy's information and its functions; protecting ourselves against those actions; and exploiting our own military information functions."

Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall & General Ronald Fogleman
Cornerstones of Information Warfare, 1995

The Unofficial Definition:

"I'm gonna get post-modern on your ass!"

(Apologies to Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction )

The Information Warfare Mania

The hottest buzzword in the current American military establishment is information warfare (IW). This term is used as if it were denotative of something precise and analyzable. A reading of the military and non-military literature reveals that it is at best a label of loose connotations. These connotations range from specifically technical tactics (e.g., hacking) through more subtle manipulations (e.g., psychological operations) to a broad epochal boundary in techno-military history.

The most obvious (and widely circulated) spin on the IW morass is to focus on the offensive and defensive manipulation of information systems and networks -- i.e., 'hacking', as that term has come to be misused in the popular press. Firewalls are the latest consumer items for the fashion-conscious enterprise, just as email was a few years ago and desktop microcomputers before that. This Web site will not concentrate solely on that portion of the IW mania. For one thing, resources addressing computer and information security issues (from both offensive and defensive perspectives) are abundant. More importantly, this line of development is little more than a wholesale transfer of the waning industrial mindset to a new arena. From this vantage, information systems comprise a space or landscape (e.g., the Internet) with affordances for disruption, encirclement, and other analogues to conventional contests for territory (or at least territorial control). The threats and opportunities are tangible -- make no mistake -- but the attention they receive is symptomatic of the fact that many people still don't quite 'get it'.

The primary reason this Web site will concentrate on other issues is that I am confident that the most significant outcomes of the present transformations will have to do with the 'information' transferred, processed, and otherwise exploited via information systems, not the systems themselves. Information systems are still subject to 'territorialization', in both the literal and the currently trendy post-modernist senses. 'Information', on the other hand, defies constraint by parameters such as unique locus or finite production. This means that in the realm of 'information' (as opposed to the realm of the information systems), the operant 'metaphysics' and dynamics are unlike those of the physical space. This in turn implies that the means for leveraging one's own interests (e.g., tools, tactics...) in this information realm will be (or at least can be) qualitatively different from the means applied to leverage the physical space.

Another reason for such a focus is that the degree to which 'warfare' becomes innate to everyday life will be directly proportional to the degree to which said 'warfare' is conducted exclusively within the 'information realm'. Tactical maneuvering in this 'information realm' does not require the extraordinary equipment associated with physical military campaigns (e.g., fighters, tanks). Moreover, it requires no equipment of extraordinary cost. This opens up the means for 'warfare' to non-national players such as shadow groups and individuals anytime and anywhere.


The Categories of IW Foci to Date

This, then, is the state of IW discussion at the time of this writing -- a conglomeration of viewpoints decomposable into a few basic categories:

Third-Wave Warform

This category subsumes the broad conventional view that the IT Revolution is having (or will inevitably have...) a correspondingly revolutionary effect on the means and the manner by which military forces operate. The majority of the literature to be found in military publications and on the Internet addresses this vision. From this perspective, IW is a new wrinkle in an established geopolitical game -- a game presumably to be prosecuted in terms of the national and transnational architectures already established. Regardless of one's opinion of this viewpoint's viability, it should be clear that (at least for the short term) this entrenched perspective will be the one guiding institutional IW developments.

Virtual Porticulli

This category (which is not mutually exclusive with 'Third-Wave Warform') subsumes those perspectives, approaches, and tactics which reduce all of IW to a unimodal defensive posture -- i.e., addressing all cyberspace risks through armoring / guarding / patrolling those systems (computers, LANs, etc.) within one's own zone of control. The point is not to claim that defensive IW (COMPSEC, COMSEC, INFOSEC) has no place in the grand scheme of things. Rather, it is to highlight the fact that considerable interest in the politicomilitary potential of cyberspace has devolved into planning and acquisition focused narrowly on the integrity of specific nodes or regions within that realm. While attention to own-force assets is certainly prudent, attention to only one's own 'back yard' may lead to a blindered and short-sighted isolation -- a condition increasing, rather than decreasing, own-force vulnerabilities in the broad context of the Net.

Free-Form Hype-Pretext

This catch-all category subsumes all those who are merely waving 'IW' and related terminology about to attract attention to their products and services. The military industrial complex is working overtime to append 'information warfare' to descriptions of threats, solutions, and procurements. Owing to the fluid and ill-defined nature of the IT Revolution, it is all too easy to wrap the IW label around peripheral or conventional issues to extend their 'shelf life'. Furthermore, a number of consulting firms are milking the IW label for profits -- invoking cyberwar as a bogeyman to stimulate sales of (e.g.) security products and services. As a result of all this label-exploitation, IW is now invoked in the same breath as topics ranging from corporate intelligence gathering to advertising to hardware-level encryption support.

Samurai Semiotics

This category subsumes the view that the IT Revolution is perhaps a symptom of broad changes being wrought in all arenas -- social, cultural, and political. This viewpoint prioritizes the manipulation of symbolic information in accordance with 'postmodern' foci on language, signs and signification. The primary potential of IW is framed with respect to information itself, rather than with respect to information systems operant within the established architecture of nation states and their alliances. In the long term, this perspective is likely to be of greater significance than the one above, if for no other reason than that it augurs a complete rethinking of what we mean by 'warfare'.

This is not to say that all IW work falls neatly into one or another of these categories. Much of the core literature splits between the first and the third categories, while the second is primarily represented in IW theory papers and that body of literature lying outside the circle of the military and its attendant industrial base. We will have to wait and see how things sort themselves out eventually. In the mean time, I suggest you track the evolution of thinking on 'third-wave warforms', consider reasonable protection without betting your future on 'virtual porticulli', bear in mind the prospect of 'samurai semiotics', and take care to avoid undue influence from the 'free-form hype-pretext'.

Menu Label

The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)

The broad impact of IT on the military is generally termed a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) , and this phrase has become an icon for whatever it might be that's occurring. Attempts to delineate and analyze the RMA are largely associated with the notion of IW as a third-wave warform -- i.e., an emerging variation on established military themes and elements. This set of pages gives an overview of the RMA and the key themes underlying its canonical delineation.
Click here to go read about the RMA


Information Warfare Glossary

As is the case with most military areas, IW is rife with jargon and buzzwords. This Web page contains a compilation of the more common terminology one must wrestle with in exploring the IW literature. The Glossary is an evolving product, attempting to address continual terminological drift and to incorporate elements from an ever-increasing set of relevant sources.

Major Revision / Upgrade: May 1998
Click here to go explore the Glossary

GO IW Glossary

Information Warfare Bibliography

The IW literature base is growing quickly. Besides this rapid growth, the duplication of materials among diverse venues (both print and electronic) makes it difficult to track the field. This Web page provides a compilation of reference materials identified from these venues. The Bibliography is an active document affording you some direct access as well as descriptive listings. In-print books can be accessed directly via (Earth's Biggest Bookstore), and WWW-accessible materials can be accessed by following the provided 'hot-links'.

Major Revision / Upgrade: May 1998
Click here to go explore the Bibliography


Guide to Internet Resources

This is a summary listing of relevant WWW "nexus" sites on the subject of information warfare. There is a great deal of redundancy to be found in WWW resources on IW, and this listing is quite sufficient to get you started. Each of the sites has been explored, reviewed, and assessed to be worthwhile. Sites judged to be short on actual content, limited in demonstrated scope and/or depth, or too proprietary to be of much use to the interested IW researcher have been filtered out.

Major Revision / Upgrade: May 1998
Click here to go explore the Internet Resource Guide

GO IW Resource Guide

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