Conventional warfare has not been a high priority for many countries for the better part of a century, and intelligence and military organizations have become focused on threats such as terrorism and serious crime. The current situation in Ukraine, one in which a global power has invaded another sovereign state, has delivered a wakeup call that forced governments and security organizations to face the fact that war is a threat that cannot be ignored, and one that is constantly evolving.
The current situation brings to light new technologies and methodologies of war, and governments must adapt. While military technology in World War II meant new kinds of physical weapons and communications, 21st century warfare combines new weapons technology with new tactics in the cyber world: disinformation, hacking, social media campaigns, and more. Read on to understand how these tactics are being used and what tools security organizations need to combat disinformation and prevent cyber-attacks.
Information warfare in the cyber age
Modern warfare is inextricably tied to the global community, with emphasis on alliances, humanitarian aid and trade (or sanctions) from countries not directly involved in conflicts. Having control of strategic narratives is key to winning public support in the global arena. The proliferation of social media posts and the dissemination of information illustrating atrocities committed by Russia have earned Ukraine support from allies in the form of sanctions and military aid and have rallied civilians around the world to donate or even fight for the cause. Whereas Ukraine may be the weaker party in terms of military firepower, the social capital that it has earned by leveraging information and cyber channels has been invaluable in strengthening their ability to resist occupation.
Information and disinformation play a part in more than just diplomacy and morale. The concept of “fog of war,” the uncertainty of situational awareness experienced by parties involved in military operations, has become a key principle in denying the enemy information regarding troop locations, advancements, and losses. Indeed, the use of social media can reveal information, whether true or false, that may be beneficial or detrimental. Civilian or soldier posts can tip off an enemy or confirm the existence of disinformation.
Alongside the explosion of new tactical and situational information stemming from individual social media posts is the trend of disinformation campaigns on a national level. Misinformation isn’t new. It was famously used in World War II as a means of accomplishing the invasion of Normandy. However, technology has changed the pace and scale of disinformation as a tactic used in every stage of warfare: from the political stage through strategic and operative planning and in tactical positioning of troops. Social media can be used to create viral campaigns that may demoralize an enemy, rally internal public support, portray a narrative legitimacy to other countries, and convey tactical positions that may or may not be accurate.
In the current conflict, Russia launched campaigns on TikTok, Instagram, and Telegram promoting justification for their invasion, including falsely accusing Ukraine as the aggressor in an attempt to set a pro-Kremlin narrative. They have also falsely claimed surrender by Ukraine. As a countermeasure to “fake news,” social media platforms have performed fact-checking campaigns and have made efforts to remove posts as necessary.
Ukrainian efforts to fight misinformation online have included social media posts on the government level, for example by Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as on an individual level through social media posts from Ukrainian soldiers and civilians that capture the realities of the conflict in real-time. Disinformation is also being fought by Ukraine’s Cyber Police Force, which dispelled a terror campaign in which Ukrainians received text messages falsely alerting them that bank ATMs had stopped working.
Cyber-attacks are now a weapon of war
While cyber-attacks have long been employed by individuals and terrorist organizations, the use of cyber-attacks by states as weapons of war is an emerging threat for which security organizations must prepare. Many fear that attempts of full-scale cyber-attacks will be part of an “opening strike” of war, in much the same way that artillery bombardments have been used in the past.
So far, the invasion of Ukraine has not involved the kind of cyber-attacks many anticipated, however, the world is watching with the expectation that an attack may be on its way. Several minor attacks have occurred, including the jamming of the satellite signal delivering broadband satellite internet to much of the Ukraine and other parts of Europe.
In 2015, hackers believed to be Russian sabotaged parts of the power grid in Ukraine, leaving many without power for hours. In 2017, there was yet another attack that shut down government offices, banks, ports, and the postal service. Given this history, many anticipated that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would involve cyber weapons.
Cyber weapons can be deployed quickly and covertly, and have the potential to attack critical national infrastructure, government websites, national telecommunications networks, and more. Governments and security teams globally thus seek to improve their security posture. In the United States, legislation was recently passed requiring “substantial” cyber or ransomware incidents to be reported to the government. Several US officials have expressed concern over the possibility of Russian cyber-attacks targeting US companies or critical infrastructure. Whether or not wide-scale cyber-attacks will be used by states in this conflict, cyber weapons are now seen by the global community as tools in nations’ military arsenals.
What technology solutions are essential for security organizations to combat cyber warfare?
Leveraging information from multiple intelligence domains is critical in many threat scenarios, and particularly so in war. To combat information warfare, data from multiple siloed sources must be fused and analyzed rapidly and accurately to confirm veracity and gain a cohesive intelligence picture. Adopting digital intelligence solutions can enable military and security organizations to overcome the new technological and methodological challenges faced in modern warfare:
- Cyber Threat Intelligence and Cyber Threat Hunting are critical for bolstering a country’s cyber resilience and detect and mitigate threats to critical assets
- Data fusion and advanced analytics is essential for fusing data from multiple sources and providing quick insights to predict threats and confirm the validity of data
To learn more about how your organization can use Cognyte’s portfolio of digital intelligence solutions to improve your wartime security posture, contact us.