How Information Warfare Changes Warfare

Really interesting paper on the moral and ethical implications of cyberwar, and the use of information technology in war (drones, for example):

Information Warfare: A Philosophical Perspective,” by Mariarosaria Taddeo, Philosophy and Technology, 2012.

Abstract: This paper focuses on Information Warfare—the warfare characterised by the use of information and communication technologies. This is a fast growing phenomenon, which poses a number of issues ranging from the military use of such technologies to its political and ethical implications. The paper presents a conceptual analysis of this phenomenon with the goal of investigating its nature. Such an analysis is deemed to be necessary in order to lay the groundwork for future investigations into this topic, addressing the ethical problems engendered by this kind of warfare. The conceptual analysis is developed in three parts. First, it delineates the relation between Information Warfare and the Information revolution. It then focuses attention on the effects that the diffusion of this phenomenon has on the concepts of war. On the basis of this analysis, a definition of Information Warfare is provided as a phenomenon not necessarily sanguinary and violent, and rather transversal concerning the environment in which it is waged, the way it is waged and the ontological and social status of its agents. The paper concludes by taking into consideration the Just War Theory and the problems arising from its application to the case of Information Warfare.

Here’s an interview with the author.

Posted on April 16, 2012 at 5:55 AM9 Comments


ChristianO April 16, 2012 6:55 AM

And a partly off topic comment as recently some blog took that apart: the word drone
is a modern newspeak.

As many unmanned aircrafts are no longer unweaponed, it is time to stop using the male bee/wasp as an euphemistic name for those.

Clive Robinson April 16, 2012 7:30 AM

Information Warfare has a nasty little problem which is not much talked about which is “error propagation”.

It comes about because of the use of “smart intel gathering” and “smart weapons” used in “stand off warfare”. Often there is no human intelligence of “sanity checking” or “on the ground checking” between the gathering of electronic intel and the programing of smart weapons based on it.

Thus you get problems, an armed drone sees a bunch of armed men in large numbers converging on a geographic location that might be a “target or attack launch point” or might not. There might or might not be weapons fire.

What do you do when sitting in your “pilot seat” in Nellies AFB? do you drop a couple of smart weapons in or do you let things continue to unfold?

If you just answered “drop a couple” then congratulations you’ve wiped out a wedding party or other social gathering and just given the Talib a new recruiting flag to wave and a bunch of grieving relatives as converts…

The problem in this case is that of “perspectives” and social norms. When you have “boots on the ground” they usually have ears and eyes as well and fairly quickly get to know first hand what is or is not a cause for lethal force.

But there are other issues, when you have troops in the field you get “blue on blue” for a number of reasons, but one is the “lack of sanity checking”. People under preasure tend not to give good SitReps, due to the fact that if under fire their heads tend to be below “boot top height” and thus their horizon is somewhat limited. What appears to be a hill or rise in the ground from six inchs above the dirt, may not be on maps or even visable to somebody in an aircraft or even the six foot of standing up.

Worse GPS systems might give accurate positions but if your head is down in the dirt with 0.5inch rounds kicking up the dust within a couple of feet are you actually going to be able to read it and repeate the information accuratly over a radio?

The point is because GPS is accurate that’s what goes into the system and used for targeting, if it’s wrong because of “human error” then the smart weapon is going to go to the wrong place…

There are a whole load of other issues such as these and we don’t have working solutions for them…

Fred P April 16, 2012 9:22 AM

@Clive Robinson-

I know next to nothing about military communications, but from having worked a bit on civilian telecom, I can state that automatically sending a GPS location over a radio system should be very easy to implement.

Clive Robinson April 16, 2012 10:44 AM

@ Fred P,

I can state that automatically sending a GPS location over a radio system should be very easy to implement

In theory yes and in many modes of transmission yes.

However, the system needs to have the facility in some kind or another.

In many military systems this facility is not present for “good and proper reasons”. Firstly most military field comms untill fairly recently were not encrypted and many still remain unencrypted for many reasons. For this reason in the past a unit would not give it’s location in absolute terms either coded or in the clear but usually relative to some code named position specific to either their link or net on that time and date.

Now one problem with military as oposed to civilian comms is “system lifetime” I know for a fact that in some current “combat zones” radio equipment is in use that was designed prior to 1980 (I know because I designed some of it’s later additions). Back in 1980 most military designs were for “voiced” Single Side Band Suppressed Carrier (SSB-SC) communications covering from the top of the HF marine band to the low end of the VHF band. Because this gave the most efficient use of spectrum and system resources at the time. Digital comms was not a consideration untill later.

As anyone who has worked with crypto kit from that time knows it was large, heavy, power hungry (even when made of 4000 series CMOS) and at best unreliable due to the many cards plugged into backplanes etc. It was also mainly designed to work with 75baud teletypes using five bit baudot code…

As for naviigation systems of the time predominantly it was based not on satellite systems but developments from “beam systems” used during WWII…

If we look instead at civilian comms such as mobile phones the entire product life cycle from design to obsolescence is often less than two and a half years…

It’s possibly why the US are taking a very very serious look at using the iPhone with certain upgrades…

mcb April 16, 2012 10:48 AM

Hmmn? Are the terms “cyberwar” and “information warfare” properly synonymous?

And is a phenomenon properly called warfare if it is not “sanguinary and violent”?

I’m open to influence, but to my way of thinking cyberwar is just government sponsored hacking unless the hackers are killing people or blowing up stuff (or at least directly contributing to the projection of military force) AND/OR until you are authorized to call in a real live fire mission to actually kill your opponent’s cyberwarriors or at least to blow up their stuff (while accepting the risk of collaterally exsanguinating real live people).

If you ain’t exsanguinating you ain’t warfighting.

PS Clive Robinson thanks for the pre-print PDF link.

mcb April 16, 2012 10:50 AM

@ ChristianO

I agree. They should be relabeled “airborne robotic killers” for now. When they become autonomous they can be called Terminators.

Muhammad Naveed Khurshid April 16, 2012 3:25 PM

People, don’t forget an important thing that Taddeo is working in Department of Philosophy at University of Hertfordshire on Informational Conflicts and their ethical implications [1]. No offence, I think, she is one of those who deludes herself into believing that she is indispensable to write on topics related with Information warfare, Cyber warfare etc. Why? Because after reading her paper, it gave me an impression that she is confused about Philosophy and Psychology behind Internet. I also found that she has little or no idea behind Information and Cyber warfare. But, I want to acknowledge her for remembering one important thing about history of Internet, which was written in her interview i.e. “the first Internet protocols were developed by DARPA”.

Schneier, Clive and Toddeo, if you are reading this comment then figure out the Philosophy and Psychology of Internet (where future Information and Cyber wars will be fought) from these three links [2], [3] & [4]. Email me, if any help is needed to figure out P & P of Internet. Furthermore, do you all know the reasons why TCP and IP became standards for Department of Defense? If not then think and figure out why USSR was silent when DARPA was working on early Internet (then known as project CATENET)? /*—Keep in mind the fact that during the birth of Internet, USSR was declining but it was still technically and resource wise some steps forward than USA— */. Think and figure out if USSR can reach in Space earlier then USA then why USSR left behind in Internet race? Think and try to answer a question,

Was USSR not aware of CATENET or they were aware of CATENET even they were aware of its security vulnerabilities but prefer to keep silent. If they prefered to keep silent, then, what was the reason? Had they got some future plans? FBI, CIA of USA, MI5, MI6 & Home office of UK, Sony, Nintendo & Sega of Japan had seen cyber attacks but why not any big Russian brand like KGB faced cyber attacks?

I do not want to divert your attention or any of your readers attention to any specific country. Instead, I want you to understand the fact and truth that there were some design problems with CATENET which had resulted and are resulting and will result in some serious and critically severe issues. An example is recent wave of cyberwars and security failures which is growing exponentially day by day.

Post Script (P.S): Schneier, I am not a professional and this is not an attack on her, you, Clive or anybody. People remember Schneier’s quote “Only amateurs attack machines; professionals target people”. I may be wrong to think and figuring out unsolved mysteries. These are my thoughts and I shared on your website with good motivation which I learned from a quote, “An alien thinks as well as a human, but not like a human”. I enjoyed reading Anderson’s book :).


[1]. Mariarosaria Taddeo – University of Hertfordshire,, Date of access: 16th April, 2012.

[2]. The design philosophy of the DARPA Internet,, Date of access: 16th April, 2012.

[3]., Date of access: 16th April, 2012.

[4]., Date of access: 16th April, 2012.

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