From Information operations to cyber warfare and a new terrain

Where in the hierarchy of information operations does cyber warfare belong? What is the definition of information warfare, information operations, and such? In my research into cyber warfare I have found a variety of definitions and almost all of them under the heading of information operations. This suggests that cyber warfare, psychological operations, public affairs, and such are subsets of information operations. Cyber warfare often is referred to as computer network attack or similar, but that is much to limiting to what cyber warfare actually entails. Information operations usually is considered part of the physical, cognitive, and data realms with each of the sub-categories have elements of the three realms. 

We have some possibilities for our working definition of information operations when trying to figure out where cyber warfare belongs. Option “A” is that information operation is the primary container for all things that are related to information. Within this concept all information is part of information operations that seem to make sense, but could cause some issues

Figure 1: Option A

There are some issues with putting the totality of information operations around the other subjects such as Psychological Operations (Psyop), Media Affairs, Electronic Warfare (EW), and Computer Network Attack (CNA). As example media affairs may be less about an information operation as that might be considered hostile if information is being provided to civilian leadership. Each of the elements can stretch and not be an operation so much as a state or activity that may be within information operations but shared with other activities.

So perhaps we have an Option B that places each of the other elements as a partial union to Information Operations and as other disciplines are added they can be both part of information operations and not. For our example we are not saying what they are part of other than that they are not completely within Information Operations.


Figure 2: Option B


We could quibble about the amount that each is found split (as in ratio) between being in information operations or outside of it, but that is for another time and place. For our case we can say that at least one of the elements is inside information operations and outside of information operations and we only need one case to prove that point logically. For our case we can mention that psychological operations have a distinct medical component that is not part of the information operations constituency.

What if there are relationships between the different entities that show they have internal relationships as well as with information operations? Perhaps information operations is simply a self standing entity that is related to different other entities. Instead of having simple unions with information operations, or intersections between entities and information operations instead we can suggest that there are myriad relationships.

Figure 3: Option C


Though Figure 3 details one set of relationships in basically a donut where each entity has two other entities that are intersecting the results of deep analysis likely would show a much more troubling math set. In our case since our target is understanding one simple element, that being cyber warfare, we can suggest one case where this may true and thereby accept the model as given though not expecting it to stand rigorous scrutiny. Our one case is that psychological operations are often related to manipulating the media where as the media can use concerted network attacks and other methods of gaining knowledge about an adversary. This is a linkage based on Figure 3, but as stated we would not expect it stand long term. It does show that information operations is much more than a simple container for information related entities.

There are of course other options that would be provable and we are not trying to make a strict rule but illuminate through detailed analysis what one train of thought and some simple math might show. All of this along the trail to figuring out where Cyber Warfare belongs in relationship to information operations.

We have some detailed information surrounding network centric attack/warfare that we can look at. As an example network centric warfare has two specific connotations that are worlds apart yet under the same primary heading.


Example 1: The Arquilla/Ronfeldt (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 2001) description of network centric warfare is the social networks of individuals and organizations without consideration of technology other than as a force multiplier.

Example 2: USAF literature describes network centric warfare as the network enabling tools found on the platform and between the weapons platform and command and control constituencies. Technology is the primary element in this paradigm.


It should be quite obvious that these two definitions are quite far apart yet have communication as a common component. Communication and information are often used inappropriately as synonyms. They are however, substantially different even while being within the same general cognitive concept area. The generalization is that regardless of the technology, networks or associations between disparate parts exist and they can be examined and used/defeated based on their cohesion and utilization.

Figure 4: Communication and Cyber warfare


If cyber warfare is only about communication then it would be inside of a bubble entirely like we have already discussed know called information operations. However, we know that the likelihood is that it is not as such a complete set within another set but something else. Communication and cyber warfare are related but separate and as such we end up with something like figure 4. This is a good representation of how cyber warfare is part of the communication infrastructure but there are

Figure 5: Communication/non-kinetic and cyber warfare/kinetic


One element of cyber warfare that is not communication related is the use of changing a message to create a kinetic action regardless of the communication channel. The misdirection of a bomb may be directed through obscuration of a path of communication but the bomb itself is a kinetic attack.  Figure 5 represents this relationship as we might see and expand upon.

So there is cyber warfare. It takes a moment to expand the idea most people have about information technology and computing. Information technology has existed since the written record first leapt from the cave wall to the papyrus scroll. The management and enabling technologies of information have merged with the act of war ever since. Whether it is Caesar tattooing messages to his generals on the shaven scalps of slaves (steganography), or combat telephones in the trenches of World War 1 France for command and control, information conduits are linked to war.

Figure 6: Sea, Land, Air and C4ISR


Thus like land, air, sea warfare and their battle spaces cyber warfare exists in its own shared space with them. In 1984 William Gibson on page 8 of “Neuromancer” coined the term “Cyber Space”. Cyber space is a construct and an agreement between entities to define the area we can not see where computers, telephones, and devices communicate and transact on a variety of paths. It is easier to use a known construct and expand upon that then to create a new one out of whole cloth. Cyber warfare exists in that space where command, control, communication, coordination, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) exists as depicted in Figure 6.


Figure 7: Sea, Land, Air, Space and C4ISR


The first question by the space ship drivers is that I am missing an entire terrain of space. This is of course true. Where sea, land, and air all are inter-related they have varying forms of jointness and can be depicted as in Figure 7 interacting with each other (including space) and also being self-standing terrains. Now there is in this case no service associated with any of the terrains. The United States Navy, Marines, Air Force and Army all have “air” assets. The Army and the Navy both have boats. Each service has its specialty toys like the Navy has carriers and the Air Force has ICBMS. Yet the jointness found under C4ISR remains and space is a new terrain.

When thinking about this space do not artificially limit yourself to the “world wide web” which is fairly small. Digging deeper below the “web” and the “Internet” is the actual battleground. Every unmanned aerial vehicle interacts with this new cyber terrain. The communication infrastructures of the battle groups and artillery units supporting Marines interact with the new terrain. Yet even though every message, command, logistics order, telemetry data packet, and email home crosses this terrain it is more than just the communication infrastructure.


Figure 8: Sea, Land, Air, Space, Cyber and C4ISR


C4ISR ascertains our targets and is the area where cyber interacts with sea, land, air, and space. Yet cyber is part of the world wide communication infrastructure. Where C4ISR deals with intent and capability, cyber spans and interacts with the other four terrains and is in fact an entirely new fifth terrain. C4ISR as communications is entirely within the Cyber Terrain but the cyber is even more than that. Cyber interacts with all the other forms of terrain as they interact with each other. As examples land and sea interact at the shore for amphibious landings, and land and air interact in the close air support mission.  The approach to the battle space and looking at the interactions exposes a new entity or terrain that is similar but more than the previous C4ISR construct.  This new terrain and the exposed relationships suggest there is a new area of research. How each of the elements interacts and what are the capabilities that can be brought to bare as discrete and singular to a terrain or shared across all terrains is quite interesting. This then exposes the concept that what can the soldier do on the new cyber terrain?

I will not go into to much detail, but there are only five things I can do though I can do them a myriad of different ways. I can block your interaction and deny you the terrain, I can spy on your messages as you send them, I can change the content of your information or command and control, I can make you distrust what have you have received, and finally I can violate the “who” of whom you are speaking. In that I have those five techniques available cyber warfare is linked to the information conduits and information operations paradigm. Even though it is totally discrete much like our two examples of network centric warfare are discrete but linked. This new terrain looks remarkably like any of the other terrains. That should strengthen the case for considering it a new terrain in the battle space.

A number of technology authors and conflict authors have written about cyber warfare and whether it exists or not. The fact is that all of the elements of cyber warfare have been with us since the beginning of conflict between humans. The metaphors for the information technologies are lifted from the real world aspects of information operations and translated to a new terrain in cyber space. The common refrain that cyber space has little relevancy in the real world as a kinetic attack vector falls quickly to the realization that the network centric battlefield gives the cyber warrior the ability to use the enemy’s weapons against the enemy.

Suddenly the cyber-terrain takes on the aspects of a guerilla war where scavenging from the enemy and prosecuting conflict in an asymmetric manner realizes the goals of information advantage and kinetic results in the real world. If I take over your UAV through cyber-warfare and blow up your troops by violating the command-control and telemetry systems, that is a real world effect through cyber warfare. If for example the bullets for front line troops in dire need are translated to beans the operational and kinetic capability of the troops is degraded in the real world through the cyber. Is that still in the realm of information operations?


Works Cited

Arquilla, J., & Ronfeldt, D. (2001). Networks and netwars: The future of terror, crime, and militancy. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

7 comments for “From Information operations to cyber warfare and a new terrain

  1. August 27, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    When thinking of Fifth Gradient Warfare, which is in many ways an expression of information warfare across a very broad spectrum, I most often come from the viewpoint of figure 1.a. Psyops, media, ect. are the vectors or the leverage I consider when choosing how to manipulate the information available to a particular target or group of targets in order that they will think and behave in a particular manner.

    In this sense the information that I influence affects the actions of the target in whatever physical terrain they are operating in. I believe this is still kinetic, yet the kinetics aspects are dispersed instead of concentrated. I am inside their OODA loop manipulating the what and the way they are Observing. The goal is for them not to be aware of the manipulation, but even if they are, they must still act in the manner that they believe best benefits themselves at that time, based on the best information that they have. Otherwise they fall prey to the wheels within wheels circular logic that leads to paralysis.

    Great food for thought.

  2. sam
    August 27, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    I definitely think that being within the OODA loop of the adversary using information operations well beyond the normal espionage using technology is a bonus. When applying this to Xgen warfare the case becomes even stronger.

  3. Tom
    July 21, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    How do we ensure that the adversary does not include the American public? Hence, how does the American public defend itself from the OODA infringement, 0r ensure that it is not a target in the first place?

    JV2020 is quite clear that domestic operations are on the table.

  4. sam
    July 22, 2010 at 7:55 am

    When discussing the American public you have to be careful on what “public” means. The use of populations as a wedge to incite change or control over governments is a basic tenet of war as we have seen from insurgency through high intensity conflict. As far as infringement through OODA I would see the use of mass hysteria campaigns and other fear mongering tactics specifically targeted at getting inside the loop of decision makers. In some ways the tight control of media in the BP oil well fiasco has been about keeping the public OUT of the BP oil companies OODA loop. So, that they could operate at their decision pace rather than a publics pace.

    As in Joint Vision 2020, and other publications like the JP2-13 domestic operations have obviously been part of possible actions by the military. Posse Commitatus not withstanding, the military has always said that it could and will operate domestically if required. Smith-Mundt is one barrier (being eroded currently) to insure that propaganda is not used against civilian populations.

  5. Tom
    July 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    “As far as infringement through OODA I would see the use of mass hysteria campaigns and other fear mongering tactics specifically targeted at getting inside the loop of decision makers. In some ways the tight control of media in the BP oil well fiasco has been about keeping the public OUT of the BP oil companies OODA loop. ”

    I would argue that the media coverage of the BP oil “spill” has actually been designed to deliberately push the public, and thereby representative politicians, into a decision tree that creates an environment more friendly to sweeping new domestic Carbon tax legislation.

  6. February 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    The first question by the space ship drivers is that I am missing an entire terrain of space.

    You are missing the entire concept of terrain.

    There is no terrain of space. There is terrain in space, on the surface of various rocks, asteroids, and planets.

    There is no terrain in or of the air. Rock-filled clouds are part of the terrestrial terrain.

    There is no terrain of/i> the sea. There is terrain on the bottom of the sea which can only be reached via submersibles and there are seamounts, reefs, shoals and islands growing up out of the terrestrial terrrain.

  7. sam
    February 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    That I am missing the entire concept of terrain is a consistent doctrinal criticism. However, it is also true that by defining an environment as a construct then calling it a domain similar issues arise. As an example the mere fluid medium injects a series of tactical requirements upon combatants within that domain that must be considered features of the terrain. The depth, current, weather, inherent difficulty of surviving all are features that are aspects of terrain. Even though they are also simple aspects of the domain. Referring to the domain as terrain is a purposeful artifice attempting to deny a more speculative argument regarding cyber as a domain.

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