Information Warfare A Philosophical Perspective – Taddeo

Our final article from Month 1 is Information Warfare A Philosophical Perspective by Mariarosaria Taddeo in Philosophy & Technology, 2012, Vol.25(1), pp.105-120.

The article is available for free here.

Here is our analysis:

Several articles have focussed on the blurred distinction between war and peace in relation to small-scale physical military operations, such as special forces raids, or drone strikes. Yet, this article raises the same question in relation to ‘Information Warfare’, mostly considering cyber conflict. A cyberwar in attack could be strictly limited to military targets, ‘due to the blurring between civil society and military organisations’ (p.117). Nor could it in defence, as military cyber units are being used at the forefront of defending civilian infrastructure from cyber-attacks, whether potentially destructive enough to begin an armed conflict, or merely cyber-disruption.

As most cyber-attacks do not rise to the level of armed conflict, I don’t think we can say yet that cyber-attacks blur the line between war and peace quite like drone strikes. But I think because of those involved, such as US Cyber Command, Chinas PLA Unit 61398, UK Cyber Reserve, and signals intelligence agencies, this does blur the line relating to who is involved. Is it a military domain, or is it the domain of civilian intelligence and police for cyber security. I don’t think there are any easy answers, and it might be that there is no resolution as the capabilities will be required by states in the future, and the distinction about who is doing cyberwarfare or other cyber-related things might not bother to the governments who ask them to do it.

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University

There seems to be a real definitional issue here surrounding Information Warfare and how we define it. The author here ties robotic weapons and cyber attacks alongside ‘communication management’ (we can assume here she means propaganda), but to take this line of reasoning surely then all warfare becomes ‘information warfare’? Where does one draw the line with technology and the separation between what the author defines as ‘information’ (software, autonomy and remote control) and other forms of weapon that all to some extent or another require an interface, and more often than not, a software intermediary?

For me, this piece doesn’t really tell us anything particularly new, and as a philosophy student, doesn’t really address any of the key philosophical issues at play here, aside from suggestions at the blurring of the border between combatant and civilian – a blurring that has been in existence now at least since WW2, if not before.

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University

Information is the new 5th dimension – an addition to the conventional foursome  of land, sea, air and space .

What links ICT deployment is disruptive intent. The key idea within the paper is that IW is transversal  in regards to (1) environment, (2) agents involved and (3) modes of combat; and the transversality of IW is what produces the policy-related and  ethical problems.  For instance there is a slippery conceptual, coding and material-digital slide between a DdoS attack that could stop water supplies for an hour , to a cyber-attack that could  shut down a power station for a day, to a cyber attack that could destroy or explode an enemy missile in situ.   Moreover, the agents involved in such an attack can be ontologically varied: they could be soldiers who slot in thumb drives to enemy computers, or digital-beings such as automated, digital –sphere roaming viruses which seek vulnerabilities, or code-savvy civilian operators who work remotely from offices in civilian areas, or even from their homes.  Where is the command centre, who is the enemy? Pre-emption of such attacks may require extensive surveillance of populations to identify hostile actors – a reduction in human right to privacy that in itself brings ethical problems.

The paper is heavy with acronyms and sometimes feels as if it is having to cram its ideas into a very limited space. The paper’s  concentration on the nature of Information warfare is useful; its main concept – that of IW’s transversal nature – seems its most pungent point.

Peter Kalu, Lancaster University


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One thought on “Information Warfare A Philosophical Perspective – Taddeo

  1. Commenting fairly generally to begin with, I wonder how we all feel about the non-physical nature of IW and if that should make any difference when it comes to measuring the impact it has in a court of law? I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of ‘violence’ and ‘force’ philosophically speaking, and it’s always struck me that ‘violence’ is mostly seen as a physical *act* that can be distinguished from, say, withholding food: though some might argue that withholding food is in fact worse than (for example) a punch in the stomach, as its effects are more far reaching. The problem then is in categorising different types of violence (or as I would perhaps call it, ‘harm’).

    Here, with IW then, there is serious potential to do harm far greater than, say, the killing of a single, or a few dozen individuals. Taking a power grid offline, or siphoning off money, or conducting remote surveillance through the internet of things (IoT) all strike me as far ‘worse’ in terms of their consequences for society as a whole than say the death of a few individuals. I know this isn’t something we like to think about as a species, but there does I believe come a point here where we must make a value judgement about the relative worth of a human ‘life’ as compared to the impact of a given action. Cyber is far more dangerous than we are prepared to admit, and I wonder if the law has yet caught up…


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