Going Global: Postmodern Warfare

U.S. Air Cadets take part in the Basic Cyber Operations course in the Air Force Academy in Colorado. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Raymond McCoy)

War has changed.

Years ago, when cyberwarfare became a serious point of discussion within think tanks and state departments, it was believed that there was danger in a hacker being able to shut down a nuclear plant. Even worse, there was the fear that hackers could steal national secrets and destabilize financial institutions the world over.

These days, Russia understands information warfare possibly better than anyone. A recent report by Estonian intelligence asserts that Russian hackers place keyloggers and other backdoors in the computers of EU diplomats. Hacks like this were conducted on Democratic National Convention email servers in 2016, which led to the eventual release of DNC emails via Wikileaks. Independent cybersecurity firms such as Fidelis believe it was Russia that directly supplied these emails.

But stealing valuable data is just the half of it. What about distributing useless information?

Vladislav Surkov, a personal advisor to Vladimir Putin, has been credited by some in communications theory to be instrumental in keeping Putin in power for almost 20 years. He sponsored both hardcore right-wingers and left-wingers in Russian politics, knowing full-well that they would fight each other. The same has been more or less confirmed in the United States. While all of the attention is focused on the way the Russians likely aided Donald Trump, a comparable amount of effort was put in to increase the popularity of Bernie Sanders.

How can your opposition mobilize against you if they’re perpetually at war with themselves?

This is the postmodern form of dividing and conquering. Russia is also currently practicing it in Azerbaijan and Armenia, as Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said on television that his government sold weapons to both sides.

For their part, the West mastered the artform ages ago. The Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 divided the Middle East amongst incomprehensible national lines, and for the next 50 years, the British took full advantage of the mess they made there.

This strategy is so effective because it requires very little in terms of military hardware, yet the gains are so massive. Russian interference in the 2016 American election made the U.S. electorate so massively polarized and opposed to itself that more and more absurd ideas became palatable. Echo chambers guarantee that, to this day, you won’t be able to convince your uncle that Obama wasn’t a secret muslim.

In a time when the breadth and depth of information is vast and accessible by the phone in your pocket, censorship won’t be taking place. Instead, the vetted information will be relatively easy to find, but it will be buried under the mountain of false and misleading information. This is a crucial component in how modern cyberwarfare is waged.


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